Training At A National Law Firm

Joe Causer is a Newly Qualified solicitor in Bond Dickinson’s Transport and Infrastructure team. In an extensive interview with AllAboutLaw.co.uk, he outlines the work he does, the area he specialises in and the nature of training at a national law firm. 

  • Last updated Feb 10, 2018 5:11:00 PM
  • By Billy Sexton, Editor, AllAboutLaw.co.uk
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Why did you choose to do your training contact at a national law firm?

I applied to firms based on what I had learnt about them from research, law fairs and word of mouth. Having undertaken work placement schemes at both international and national firms, I chose to join Bond Dickinson. My choice was heavily influenced by my experience during a work placement at the firm. During my placement, the work I was given was both varied and interesting and everyone at the firm made a great impression by being so approachable and friendly. Whilst a training contract at an international law firm may have been an option, my decision was based on which firm I believed I would enjoy working for most. Based on my experience so far, the quality of work and the opportunities available for the future, I made the right decision.

What was the first day of your training contract like?

Daunting yet exciting. When you start your training contract, you have a whole wealth of knowledge and experience above you as you take that first step on to the legal career ladder. After the induction sessions, which were useful and informative, the first day working in the Real Estate business group was enjoyable. Firstly, meeting the team with which I would be spending the next six months and then getting started on some work. 

Which area do you specialise in? What do you enjoy most about it?

I have now qualified into the Transport and Infrastructure team within the Corporate and Commercial Services business group. This team provides me with high quality experience, stimulation and intellectual challenge due to the complex nature of the work. I have already gained exposure to a number of exceptional clients who generate an excellent range and quality of work.

How are seats chosen at Bond Dickinson?

The trainees are asked to select up to three seats from each of the four business groups (Corporate and Commercial Services, Real Estate, Dispute Resolution and Private Wealth). From these choices, you are able to rank the top three seats in order of preference. 

There is an assumption that national law firms do not handle the same kind of high profile cases as international or city law firms. Is that true, in your experience?
The nature of the work you are exposed to at Bond Dickinson depends on the team in which you are working. Although you may not be involved with large international deals on a day to day basis, Bond Dickinson represents a number of international and large national clients. I have worked on high value, high profile and complex matters whilst sitting in the Real Estate, Corporate and Transport teams. Transactions have included multiple parties based in jurisdictions such as the United States and various European countries.

What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis as a trainee?

It is possible to take on a large amount of responsibility as a trainee. Provided you demonstrate ability, a willingness to learn and enthusiasm, the teams which you work in will encourage you to take on more challenging work. In turn, this will undoubtedly aid your development as a lawyer. As a trainee, I experienced a good balance of chargeable work and business development activities. Bond Dickinson encourages trainees to become involved in business development from the outset of the training contract as this complements the legal knowledge you acquire to enable you to fulfil your potential as a solicitor. Most days will involve liaising with clients, drafting documents and elements of research. Trainees at Bond Dickinson are given a high degree of client contact from the outset, this allows you to build up good relationships with clients to the extent that you often receive instructions directly from them.

How many other trainees were there in your intake? How, if at all, has this made a difference to your training experience?

There were 21 trainees across all offices and I was one of eight based in the Newcastle office. I do not think that the number of trainees in my intake had a significant impact on my training experience. The training contract at Bond Dickinson is tailored to each individual rather than aiming to produce a set of identical trainees.

What is the support system like at Bond Dickinson? What do you do when you’ve got a problem or are stuck on a project?

Be proactive! Consider possible solutions to the problem then ask the relevant fee earner. Naturally, as a trainee there is a tendency to gravitate towards the more junior fee earners in the team. However, Bond Dickinson genuinely operates an open door policy and I am yet to meet a partner, managing associate or other fee earner who would not listen to my query.

The support systems in place at Bond Dickinson are effective and helpful. Graduate Recruitment are supportive and take an active interest in your development. The firm also operates a mentor scheme through which a junior fee earner is allocated to you for support during your training contract. I often called upon my mentor with general and seat specific queries and have found the mentor scheme to be a useful resource during my training contract.

What are some of the things you know now about training contracts that you wish you’d known before applying?

There is enough information available on law firms to allow you to know about the firms to which you are applying and the training contract they offer. The best option is to undertake a work placement scheme.

What is the work-life balance like at a national law firm?

The work-life balance at Bond Dickinson varies from team to team. The average working day for a trainee at Bond Dickinson is approximately 8am till 6:30pm. However, as with any business, you are required to work to the needs of the business. During busier times (and in busier teams) you will often work outside of what are classed as normal working hours. During my training contract, I worked one 90+ hour week, numerous weekends and had one 5am finish! Ultimately, it is not about how long you spend in the office, it is about the work that you produce while you are there. I find plenty of time to enjoy a life outside of work, and you are actively encouraged to do so by team leaders and supervisors in the quieter periods.

What advice would you give to people currently applying for training contracts at national law firms?

Research the firm thoroughly. You need to know the firm’s vision and make sure it matches yours. Whilst many people fire out applications left, right and centre, you need to make sure you are applying to a firm at which you want to work.

Make your application stand out. Don’t rely solely on academics. The majority of national law firms will not accept less than a 2:1 from a reputable university so most candidates will have strong grades. You need something which makes you a memorable candidate and makes people want to read your application – interviewers rarely want to talk about your 72% in Constitutional Law. 

Attention to detail is key. Do not give the firm to which you are applying an excuse to disregard your application. Simple spelling errors (or even naming the wrong firm in your application) are likely to result in the application heading straight for the bin!

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