Posted by James Barratt, Trainee Solicitor
The law becomes real- Insights from a first seat trainee solicitor
I have just finished my first seat in Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at the Oxford office of Royds Withy King and this is a quick snapshot of my work
When you are in the midst of training contract applications it can be easy to become fixated on ‘getting a TC’ and to slightly lose sight of what the training contract will entail – other than six monthly stints in four different ‘seats’/ specialist departments over two years.
I have just finished my first seat in Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence at the Oxford office of Royds Withy King, and this is a quick snapshot of my work.
From non-law to law
As a non-law graduate this was my first real exposure to the legal world, other than a week or two of work experience. Consequently the first few weeks held some rabbit in the headlight moments when you are presented with a file, a memo and the immortal lines ‘can you just..?’ Other trainees tell me that this in fact is normal for the start of a seat, so must be embraced. I found that I very quickly became familiar with the work, the fee-earners and time recording (forensically breaking your day into units of six minutes!). Crucially I found that the wider team, from partners to secretaries, were all willing to help if I had a question, and you should have lots. I also had comprehensive training on all systems and attended external and internal training, often in one of our other offices.
A day in the life…
I know it sounds clichéd but as it was a litigious seat, my days were very varied. One minute you might be deciphering medical records to draft a chronology based on a client’s medical history, dropping documents off at court or taking notes at a meeting with a barrister and medical experts. I have been lucky enough to go to an approval hearing in front of a judge; a full trial in the County Court and an application hearing at the Royal Courts.
Valuing a client’s potential damages was a large part of my role. This required researching previous cases and doing a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise between the client’s injuries/symptoms and those of previously decided cases. It was more an art than a science but it was really interesting work and excellent to see those valuations used to make offers to settle.
Using a Dictaphone to produce letters, minutes and other documents was a very novel experience. If you can get over the self-conscious aspect of talking quietly into a microphone-esque device in the middle of an office then it can save you a lot of time and typing! Tip – check the volume control before you play back your dictation.
The human side of law
I had a good amount of client contact, which for me involved taking initial enquires from the public, calling clients and going on a home visit. This was brilliant as you see the human side of your cases and it is good practice with people management skills. Equally, as a trainee I was on the rota to run Citizens Advice Bureau advice clinics, which was a great opportunity to build on my interviewing and advising skills.
Of course note taking, research and photocopying are all less glamorous trainee tasks but they are vital to the role and would not be the best use of a partner’s time! Tip – preparing a bundle for trial always takes longer than you think. However, the fee-earners in the team were very good at inviting me to meetings and getting me involved with interesting work they were doing, which meant I had a good overview of the role of a solicitor in that area by the end of my seat.
The time absolutely flew by and I always had work to do. From day one I was made to feel like I was an important member of the team, which was invaluable. The office was friendly and supportive and there was a good social element to complement the work. In my first fortnight I had my welcome lunch, the Oxford office’s summer party and the Personal Injury team treat (which involved crazy golf, dinner and cocktail making). The firm holds a social event on the first Friday of every month in all offices, which is a good way for those in other departments to get to know each other.
I have now moved to the Bath office to start my second seat in Corporate and am looking forward to starting all over again!