6 February 2013
Irwin Mitchell second year trainee Harriet Clarke advises students to be careful of just visiting magic circle firm stands at university law fairs - another firm may be a better fit.
Name: Harriet Clarke
Firm: Irwin Mitchell LLP
Position: 2nd year trainee solicitor
Universities: University of Warwick, Nottingham Law School
GDL or LPC: LPC
Hobbies: Gym, music, horse riding, dinner with friends
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor? I was drawn to law as it offered the best of both worlds – not only a varied, academically challenging career but also the opportunity to interact with clients and work with them in a collaborative way to help them achieve their goals. Prior to my training contract, I worked for two years in financial consulting. Whilst I enjoyed the experience, I am extremely pleased I came back to law as I am exposed to clients on a regular basis and our work has a more immediate impact.
Why did you choose your firm? Irwin Mitchell stood out; they offer two ‘streams’ of training contract (I was interested in business law so the opportunity to do a training contract in ‘business legal services’ was particularly appealing) and they seemed a progressive, forward thinking firm. I completed a vacation placement in the summer of 2009 (incidentally in the corporate team where I’m currently sitting) and my impression could not have been better – high quality work, team members that took the time to give me proper tasks and talk me through their transactions, and a general feeling of a supportive and friendly firm.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? My highlight so far is probably my involvement in a refinancing of a property group and, in particular, managing to avert a potential catastrophe. I had just started my third seat in real estate/real estate finance and I was packed off one rainy Friday afternoon to Milton Keynes with a pilot-case filled with approximately 100 documents for execution, only to arrive and find I was locked out of the case. Whilst a crisis meeting was being held back in London, I found a very helpful taxi driver with a screwdriver who managed to break his way into the case and we eventually completed the deal late that night. I will never live it down but on the plus side all the real estate and finance partners definitely knew my name after that!
What does your typical day involve? I usually get in about 8:45am and have my breakfast at my desk whilst checking my emails. The specifics of my day will depend on where we are in the life of a transaction, but will usually include meetings with team members, reviewing documents drafted by the other side, drafting ancillary documents (board minutes, disclosure letters, stock transfer forms, powers of attorney etc), conference calls with the other side/clients, company searches and, on a good day, the occasional completion lunch!
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? The work of the corporate department is quite broad which I really enjoy. So far I have worked on company restructures, enterprise investment schemes, joint venture agreements, share purchases, asset purchases and contract negotiations.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? I particularly like the breadth of work, that no two days are the same and that every day I learn something new. I have real responsibility, but am always surrounded by a supportive team who are never too busy to talk me through anything I am unsure of. The culture and working environment at Irwin Mitchell is fantastic - I can honestly say there is not one partner that I would not feel comfortable chatting to. It is also a sociable place to work – we even have Friday Night Pub Club.
What are the worst aspects of your job? Other than the fact we have a Prêt in our building (and I find myself eating far too much Prêt food…) it is sometimes hard to predict my working hours. Having said that, compared to most firms it is not bad at all and I have never been asked to cancel anything booked in advance.
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession? That everyone practising law is in fact a barrister and sits in court wearing a wig!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Gain experience at as many firms as possible so you know what type of firm will suit you best. At university law fairs so many people just visit the magic circle stalls (I probably did the same in my second year), but whilst these may be the right choice for some, others may find a better fit at another firm.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? Focussing too narrowly on one area of law. It is no bad thing to be passionate, but trainees need to be flexible – most will do at least four seats. It is a good idea to keep an open mind as you may find the area you enjoyed whilst studying is very different in practice.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? The recession. I had a training contract at a different firm secured for when I finished law school in September 2009, but was deferred with no guarantee of a 2010 start date. I decided not to take the risk and started the application process again. It was a difficult time, as so many firms had deferred people there were far fewer training contracts on offer. Making yourself stand out is always hard. Luckily I had worked at a firm for a year prior to law school and I believe this made a big difference.
How is law in practice different from studying law? Real life clients impose deadlines and are prone to changing their minds! You also have to be able to easily switch between matters, particularly as a trainee working with a number of fee earners.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Being able to think commercially, both in terms of understanding the broader business needs of the client as well as the financial implications of a transaction. Many trainees in my intake have had non-law experience, which is valued at Irwin Mitchell. My previous experience not only improved my commercial awareness, but meant that I was already comfortable working in an office environment and working within a team. From the onset we are encouraged to attend networking events, so the ability to get on well with both colleagues and clients is also very important.