Name: Alex Norman
Degree and university: BA (Hons) History and Politics, Durham University
- Graduate Diploma in Law, Oxford Brookes University (one year law conversion course)
- Legal Practice Course, BPP London (mandatory year at law school before the training contract)
Job title: Trainee solicitor
What do you actually do?
As a trainee in the London office at Freshfields, my day-to-day life and workload is quite varied. I am currently on a six-month client secondment to a major international investment bank. This mainly involves reviewing documents such as engagement letters and confidentiality agreements. It is a great opportunity to understand how financial institutions operate.
In my previous seat in the corporate department, I was often involved in reviewing and drafting documents in addition to general transaction management. This entails e-mailing and calling clients or lawyers on the other side of a transaction. I also completed legal research, which involves researching and writing notes on specific points of law. The emphasis on research varies from seat to seat though – trainees in dispute resolution, for example, can expect to do more of this.
What skills do you need to do that?
In practical terms, simple common sense and good judgement are really important skills to have as a trainee. You will often be confronted with tasks and situations which you have not dealt with before.
The ability to identify your client’s goals and apply them in the context of a piece of work is extremely useful. As the atmosphere is very fast paced, and at times high pressured, managing your time and prioritising work effectively will help you to succeed.
More generally, as lawyers produce a lot of written work, the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly in writing is very important. Technical accuracy in written work is often just as important as content. The ability to pay close attention to detail is one of the skills your colleagues will expect you to demonstrate in the work you produce.
How did you know you wanted a career in law?
Having done an arts degree, it was a fairly natural progression to look for a job which would allow me to draw on the skills I had developed while at university, such as analysis, research and writing. However, what really attracted me about commercial law, and Freshfields in particular, was the opportunity to understand how some of the biggest businesses in the world are run and the everyday challenges they face.
What would you like to be doing in ten years time?
One of the things I would like to do at some stage is to live and work abroad and experience a different type of market to London. However, my immediate goals are to qualify and gain as much practical experience as possible.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The ability to get involved in some of the very best and most talked-about transactions around. As a trainee at Freshfields, the variety and quality of the opportunities that come your way (for example, client and international secondments) and the seat flexibility within the training contract are major plus points for me.
And the worst?
The hours can be unpredictable and at times it can be difficult to juggle this with your personal life. On the other hand, the hours are not as long as many people might expect. If you are concerned, talk to someone who is doing the job and keep in mind that hours vary between departments within firms as well as between the firms themselves.
What advice would you give new graduates who want to do what you do?
For those who aren’t sure yet… talk to trainees or qualified lawyers about their jobs and lives and see if you can identify with them. Doing a vacation scheme (or several) is a really good way to gain some practical insight into the day-to-day life of a lawyer. It will also give you a clearer idea of the kind of law firm you want to join and the type of law you ultimately want to practise.
If you are considering commercial law…. have a browse through the business pages of a weekend broadsheet and start reading about companies that you have heard of or identify with. This is a really simple way to start learning about how businesses work and how commercial law firms interact with them.
Lastly, for those who are applying…. check, check and re-check your applications. You need attention to detail to succeed as a lawyer so poor spelling and grammar will not give a good impression. It could be a reason for a law firm to decide it does not want to pursue your application.