Whilst working as a property paralegal, I realised that my ideal job would involve being a general Trainee Solicitor, one where I was not stuck to dealing with just one discipline then having to change every few months.
As a paralegal, I had been fortunate to be a part of transactions from initial instructions all the way through to dealing with post completion matters. I would liaise with clients throughout and had built up a rapport with them, in comparison, I would witness colleagues regrettably inform the same people they would no longer be dealing with the matter and would be transferring to a new department the next day. As much as I wanted a training contract, I did not want to compromise on the valuable knowledge and skills I had acquired whilst working on these matters. I would wish for this job all the while knowing it probably didn’t exist.
But it did.
I started my training contract at Docklands Solicitors (part of Whitehead Monckton) in October 2017. At the time of writing this blog post, I have assisted fee earners in the Commercial Property, Tax and Estate Planning (TEP) and Family departments.
Commercial Property has allowed me to develop drafting skills, from new lease documents to focusing on the smaller details where a lender wants specific provisions inserted in a charge. I have also been involved in perusing drafts from the other side and adding amendments which would favour my client. That isn’t to say the best for your client will mean winning on every point. Commercial decisions require you to balance a short term consequence against a greater loss in the long term. The buyer may want to renegotiate a price and although lower, what if the client has to put the property into auction and the asking price is much less than the current offer on the table? You advise the client of the risk and let the instruction come to you. Commerciality is about recognising these risks and being one step ahead. The experience has also honed my attention to detail for the same reason, which also assists when investigating the title documents and reviewing search results to ensure the enquiries raised are relevant.
In the TEP department, I initially thought the experience would only expose me to drafting standard Wills and the occasional Lasting Power of Attorney for clients. I was very wrong. Being a TEP trainee has allowed me to get involved in the process of estate administration, notifying companies of the death, collecting in the assets, configuring the accounts, submitting the relevant tax form to HMRC to apply for the grant of probate and ultimately distributing the estate between the beneficiaries. I have learnt there is more than just a “standard” Will, depending on the client’s personal estate and financial circumstances, you may need to draft one or few discretionary trusts and with couples, you even need to address sensitive matters such as who will die first as your clients need to be advised of the likely tax implications on their respective estates. It is definitely not simple, and that’s something I really enjoy about it. As with all good things in the world, the knowledge is never ending.
Family law has allowed me to experience the court room. It is the most hard-hitting out of all the departments, purely because there are contentious issues, raw and personal and not transactional. For these clients, it is important their solicitor is empathetic; professional and yet human. You need to ensure you keep to your client’s expectations and as they usually have limited knowledge of the process, it becomes paramount that you ensure you are keeping them informed at all times. When drafting petitions and court documents, it is key that you are able to separate details and identify the legal rational from within the personal accounts of clients that the court will need to know to progress applications. As the work frequently involves finances, I find my knowledge of property law assists when advising clients of the importance of severing joint tenancies before a divorce. Naturally, you then find yourself advising the client they should update their Will too. The work of successful family lawyers clearly goes beyond the realms of black-letter law!
Clearly, the work within each of the departments is very broad. There are some days where I find myself delving into all three disciplines and although challenging, I am aware my organisational and time management today is much better than when I started my training a year and a half ago. Having flexible deadlines and an understanding and supportive team also works wonders. The training contract has gone beyond my expectations and I am enjoying every minute of it!