26 September 2012
DLA Piper first seat trainee Joe Smith advises candidates to be patient and get some credible work experience
Firm: DLA Piper
Position: Trainee Solicitor (First Seat)
Degree: LLB Law
University: University of East Anglia, Norwich
GDL or LPC: LPC - College of Law
Hobbies: Football, running, gym, live music, travelling and US TV series.
Department: Energy, Infrastructure Finance & Commodities, London.
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor? I’ve had a long-standing interest in law and have always viewed a career in law as a very attractive prospect. However, it was during my undergraduate degree that I realised that I wanted to actively pursue this career path and, on the back of this, I researched and obtained work experience at a variety of firms to gauge the areas of work they are involved in. I soon realised that training as a solicitor would be a very challenging and interesting career, and that no two days would be the same!
Why did you choose your firm? The decision to join DLA Piper was an easy one. I was looking to join an ambitious, market leading-firm, with opportunities to be involved in genuinely global transactions. Having attended a vacation scheme here during my time at university, I found that DLA ticked all of these boxes.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? On a work level, being thrown straight in to multi-million pound project finance transaction during the first week of my training contract has been a real eye-opener as to the calibre of work that DLA undertakes. However, the residential induction prior to starting in the office was a great way to meet my fellow trainees from across the firm!
What does your typical day involve? I’d be hard pushed to say there’s a ‘typical day’. Much depends on the stage of the deal you are working on, and the issues that may arise as the deal progresses. That said, I am often tasked with conducting legal research; marking-up and making amendments to a range of financing documents; attending meetings, and listening in on a conferences calls.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? The team I work in is primarily involved in energy and infrastructure projects in emerging markets, with a particular focus on sub-Saharan Africa.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? The calibre of the work is a big bonus. Also the sheer size of the projects undertaken, often involving multiple lawyers across different departments and juristictions, contributes to a great camaraderie within the firm.
The social life is also very enjoyable. Drinks are regularly arranged amongst trainees, and there is the opportunity to get involved in a number of sporting teams.
What are the worst aspects of your job? At times the work hours can be quite demanding. However, when the work is genuinely interesting and you are able to actively participate, the time soon flies by.
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession? That academics are everything. In reality, law is very much a ‘people’ industry and far more time is spent engaging in commercial discussions with colleagues and clients than is dedicated to dissecting statues and case law.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Be patient. If you are seriously considering a career in law, take the time to figure out exactly what area of law you would like to work in, and what type of firm you would like to work for - and try to get some credible work experience.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? The biggest pitfall that students can face, in my opinion, is complacency. The current graduate market is extremely competitive and employers are often looking for far more than just excellent academics. I would say that students should perhaps think about directing their attention and focus towards extra-curricular activities, and building the wider aspects of their CV.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? Choosing the firms I wanted to work for - the type of work they undertake, the calibre of their clients, the firm’s ‘culture’ - and then trying to understand how they differentiated from one another. This required many, many hours of research.
However, once you have this in mind, the application process becomes a lot simpler. You can tailor your applications to firms that appeal you rather than applying en masse to the many, many firms that offer training contracts.
How is law in practice different from studying law? Practising law is very much a progression of the skills learned while studying law, whether that be at university, or on the GDL/LPC. Clarity of expression, the ability to identify issues and strict attention to detail are all underpinning facets of trainee life.
That said, practice seeks to build on those basic skills and focus more on the commerciality of the issues at hand. Essentially, this requires a detailed understanding of your clients, and the commercial context in which they operate.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Confidence, intelligence, excellent analytical skills, a strong commercial mind-set and a good sense of humour!