Cobbles, ceilidhs and commercial law: life as a DLA Piper trainee in Edinburgh

You could be forgiven for thinking that to do a training contract, you have to move to London and work in a City office. In fact, firms have offices all over the country, with many regional hubs hosting legal scenes that thrive in their own right. We spoke to Eilis McDonald, a trainee at DLA Piper’s Edinburgh office, about life in the Scottish capital.

  • Last updated 11-Dec-2018 12:51:09
  • Article Provided by DLA Piper
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Life as a trainee

What seat of your training contract are you currently in, and how long do you have left of your training contract? 
I am currently in intellectual property and technology, which is my second seat. I sat in real-estate finance for my first seat, and for my third seat I’m going on client secondment to Heineken. On secondment, I will be assisting with data protection, commercial contracts, marketing and branding, and procurement. 

What have been some of the highlights of your training contract so far? 
The first fortnight of the training contract remains a significant highlight. We came together with all UK, Australian and Hong Kong trainees for two weeks in London, where we were introduced to the firm and given extensive training. There were numerous social and networking events that helped everyone to get to know each other from across the different offices.

Which seat have you enjoyed the most?
Intellectual property and technology has been my favourite seat so far. I arrived in the team two months before the GDPR came into force, and so have been involved in some huge compliance projects with clients, most of which have been international. One project involved me working with 19 different DLA offices for one client. The work is fast-paced and very interesting; I’ve worked on large FinTech projects, IT security procurements and some large cloud outsourcing agreements while in this seat.

What do you think are the advantages of doing a training contract in a location outside of London?
In a smaller office, everyone gets to know you very quickly. You’re often given a lot of responsibility because there are fewer trainees and associates than there are in the London office. Over 90% of the work I’ve been doing is either international or part of the ‘one UK’ approach to clients, so I often work with trainees from offices all over the world, without having to go to London to be exposed to this. In terms of work-life balance, although we sometimes have late nights, most of us are able to live within a 20-minute walk from the office, and so have a really short commute.

Life at DLA Piper

How big is the office in which you work?
There are roughly 120 people in our office, which includes all fee earners and non-fee earners. We are in the preliminary stages of a whole office refurbishment, due to be completed by 2019, which will facilitate more people.

What’s the support system like in your office? Is it easy to develop a working relationship with partners, associates and fellow trainees? 
There’s a very solid support system in our office. We work in “pods” in an open-plan environment, which encourages people to ask questions and discuss ideas in person, rather than over email or instant message. I sit beside the partner in our team, which has been great for getting involved in big projects. We have weekly team meetings as well as more regular catch-ups with everyone in the team, which the partner always attends. There are loads of societies and committees that have members from all levels at the firm, as well as support staff, which has been a good way of getting to know more senior lawyers who aren’t in my team. I’m on various committees, but the Leadership Alliance for Women committee in particular has been a great way to meet more senior lawyers who have become informal mentors. We meet regularly to plan and attend events together with other groups from the diversity and inclusion network at the firm, as well as to discuss topical issues, which has been a fantastic support network as a first-year trainee. 

In what ways do you get to socialise with other trainees in your intake?
In the Edinburgh office, there’s actually a trainee clubroom where we have lunch together almost every day. Through the charities and social committee, we regularly organise events such as games nights, cinema club and more recently at the Edinburgh Fringe—we’ve arranged to see several shows together. A few of us put together a team that took part in the ‘In2Touch’ touch rugby league, and we also have a fivea- side football team and a social hockey team. 

There aren’t many trainees in the Edinburgh office; there are five in my year and eight in the year above, so we’re a close group! Across the UK, there are around four events per year that are attended by all trainees in the intake. The best event is the Edinburgh office Burns Supper, which is a two-day event funded by the firm, attended by around 60 trainees from across the UK. 

How do you manage your workload? 
I’ve learned to be transparent with the fee earners; if I genuinely have no more capacity to take on extra work, it’s more efficient to explain this rather than take on too much and compromise the standard of the work. I’ve also learned to my surprise that I’m a morning person, and so sometimes I’ll come in early to get a piece of work done. My team are really flexible; as long as the work gets done, then it’s common for us to leave at a reasonable hour and finish the work at home. 

Life in Edinburgh 

Are there any elements to training in Edinburgh that you wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere?
Edinburgh has so much to offer and is an extremely vibrant city. It’s steeped in Scottish history and culture, but is truly international and commercial at the same time. You can walk almost everywhere within the city in 20 minutes, even to the beach. There are so many attractions, such as the castle and Arthur’s Seat, as well as a huge outdoor culture, being only a short drive from the Highlands. There are lots of tourists as a result of this—but definitely not as many as in London! 

In your spare time, what kind of things do you like to do in Edinburgh? 
I’m currently training for a 45-mile cycle in London, so I’m exercising as much as possible for that. The cycle has actually been organised through work and it’s in aid of the Princes Trust.

My training has been delayed recently, however, because the Edinburgh Fringe has been on and we’ve been trying to make the most of it! 

Can you sum up the city in three words? 
Cobbled, windy, international. 

As a trainee lawyer, do you find that there are a lot of other young professionals working in the city? 
In Edinburgh, there are various societies such as the Edinburgh Young Professionals, or the Scottish Young Lawyers Association, which organise several black-tie ceilidhs and balls throughout the year. 

We’re particularly fortunate because DLA funds our attendance at these events, which has resulted in us getting to know lots of other trainees and young professionals at different firms. 

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