8 April 2013
Trainee solicitor Georgiana Applegate gives an essential insight into working at TLT.
Name: Georgiana Applegate
Firm: TLT (Bristol)
Position: Trainee Solicitor
Degree: 2:1 LLB
Universities: Bristol University
GDL or LPC: LPC at UWE
Hobbies: Playing tennis, going to live music events
Department: Commercial Property (3rd seat)
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?I had always been interested in a career in law as my father is a solicitor, but I wanted to find out more information for myself before committing. I managed to get a variety of different work placements in different areas before I went to university (from shadowing a parliamentary consultant to spending a few weeks as a filing and archives assistant in a law firm). I liked the fact that a legal career would involve an intellectual challenge as well as a lot of problem-solving and creating relationships with clients. I have always been a team player and enjoy working closely alongside other people when necessary, and so I felt that my strengths leaned more towards becoming a solicitor rather than a barrister.
I also really enjoyed my law degree - early on I applied for vacation placements so I could get a better insight into a career as a solicitor.
Why did you choose your firm? I wanted to train at a firm which had a good reputation both in relation to attracting high quality clients and for looking after its staff. I wanted to work alongside well-regarded lawyers and in a firm that provide continual professional development. I wanted the excitement of working for household name clients, and be involved in the variety of work that some of the bigger firms could provide. However, I did not want to feel ‘lost’ in the machine of a large City firm, and was enjoying my time in Bristol. I therefore focussed my research for training contracts on the bigger Bristol firms because I did not want to compromise on the quality of work just because I would be outside of London. I also wanted to be part of an up-and-coming firm that saw itself as ‘going places’. Quickly, I realised that TLT fulfilled all of the criteria in that it is a forward-thinking, friendly firm with a great reputation, and offered its staff on-going training and a healthy work-life balance. Also, the representatives I met with were really positive about their experiences at TLT.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? In the second week of my first seat I was asked to join a meeting with my partner and a client. Initially I was just there to take notes, but I ended up staying with the partner all afternoon planning how we would go about running a multi-million pound domestic solar panel project. I was given over-all control of the project, and was the main contact with the client. As I was so involved with the day-to-day running of the project, I was asked to attend meetings with the client on my own to discuss any issues they were having and how we could improve both ours and their process. This level of responsibility I was given so early on was fantastic.
One particular highlight in my second seat was assisting a banking partner with a £100m refinance deal where I prepared all of the ancillary documents and was the day-to-day contact for the client. Once the deal had completed, the investors took the TLT team and the client bank team out for a long lunch at a very nice restaurant as a celebration. It was great to know I had played an integral part in a transaction which was a very important deal both to our client and the investors.
What does your typical day involve? I commute from Cheltenham and I get in to work at about between 8.20am and 8.50am each day (as long as my train isn’t delayed!). With a cup of tea in hand I review any emails that have come in and sort through my to-do list to prioritise tasks for the day. In my current team, I have a large caseload so the work I do each day is different. I may be involved in preparing some draft documentation or dealing with Land Registry applications. Most days I will need to liaise with clients and the other side in transactions to chase for documents or instructions or to answer day-to-day queries, and every couple of days I will sit down with a colleague to go through any queries I may have on a particular matter or to review documents I have drafted before sending them out. Inevitably, emails or phone calls will come in throughout the day, or work will be passed to me by a colleague which will need to be dealt with straight away. If I can I try and get some fresh air at lunchtime, and then continue with work until about 6pm. There are occasions when I need to stay later to get some urgent documents out, but staying past about 7.30pm is fairly uncommon, and on Fridays I make sure I am out in good time.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? I currently work in the Commercial Property department. The team is involved with a variety of different projects which range from landlord and tenant work (preparing new/renewal leases), acquisitions and disposals of properties or areas of land (drafting all sale documentation and dealing with enquires, or investigating title to potential sites for purchasing), and dealing with development projects.
There is a lot of opportunity for trainees to get involved with the day-to-day running of files. I have drafted a lot of ancillary documents for matters (such as a Tenancy at Will allowing the tenant access into the property before the main Lease has been negotiated and agreed). I also get to help the partner with some of the complex development matters he is involved with so I have been on several site visits and attended a lot of client meetings.
The clients include multinational companies, national charitable bodies and local developer companies so we get to deal with a big variety of transactions.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? The parts I most enjoy are when you can finally bring a longstanding matter to a conclusion – the sense of satisfaction is great when you pass the news on to the client. In my current seat I have had plenty of opportunities to go to client meetings and I have really enjoyed these. These have been in a variety of different places from offices in Knightsbridge, to site visits in north London and on the banks of the Thames. These have all been really useful as they are usually on matters that I have been involved with – but it is easier to understand the complex problems involved with the drafting when you have seen the site in person. I’ve also attended a few business development drink events which are good fun as you get to meet with clients and potential clients in a more sociable environment.
What are the worst aspects of your job?Occasionally an urgent matter comes in on a Friday afternoon or late in the day and you have to get documents sent out that day at a few hours notice so you have to drop all work and any plans to get the work done. It’s always a relief when you hit the deadline.
And getting the 6.31am train to London for a client meeting!
Dealing with tricky solicitors on the other side of a transaction.
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession? That lawyers charge a fortune for unnecessary work; that they are pedantic and argumentative. Lawyers need to be accurate in what they do, and often the work is very time consuming and requires a lot more thought that the client originally anticipated – therefore the costs can be fairly high on what at the outset appeared to be a simple matter.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Get a decent amount of work experience.
Trying to get some work experience or a summer job etc in a law office will help give you a better understanding as to what goes on in a firm of solicitors. You will be able to use this experience to back up your answers when you respond to the inevitable question ‘why do you want to be a solicitor?’
Any sort of work experience, work placement or weekend job will help improve your ‘transferable skills’ that are so important to demonstrate to a potential employer – team work, interpersonal skills, time management etc – as well as giving you experiences to talk about at interview or in your application form. These are harder to teach than legal rules. The examples, experience and skills you can demonstrate from a Saturday job or being in a sports team are actually very important – dealing with a tricky customer, covering for the manager when they were ill, juggling your time – all help to demonstrate that you will be a useful part of a team. These are important non-academic skills that are vital for a lawyer to have.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? Don’t try to apply to as many firms as possible. Each application you make needs to be well thought out and specific to each firm, so you should not waste your time applying to 40 firms and copying and pasting the same answers. You must tailor your application to each firm – getting through the first stage is the hardest as there are so many applicants for each position.
Don’t ignore experiences, extra-curricular activities, interests and job roles that you think are irrelevant to a career in law. Being a lawyer isn’t about being the best academic; you also have to have to be personable, and have many other skills, so make sure these come across.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? Too many applicants for each position.
How is law in practice different from studying law? Law in practice is about solving problems, providing the clients what they want, and being commercial about it. The clients don’t want to pay you to provide an essay about the background and legal rules in relation to a situation – they want a workable solution to their particular problem. Some departments are a lot more ‘legal’ than others - it isn’t all about reciting cases.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? All lawyers are different, and all law firms are different. Securing a training contract can be difficult because it is a very competitive market. However, the most important thing is to choose the right firm for you and ensure that you tailor your application form and make sure you explain clearly and effectively why you have chosen that firm and why you would be an asset to them.
The common attributes of a successful candidate will include being ambitious and intelligent (as it is a difficult market and you need to have the academic skills to get a good degree and pass the GDL/LPC) but you have to have good interpersonal and teamwork skills, pay attention to detail (but also be able to understand the bigger picture and the client’s specific requirements and identify the most important issues to the client), and be able to multitask. A successful candidate will need to stand out and be interesting – so don’t be afraid to refer to interests and experiences that are non-academic.