What is life like as a legal trainee within HM Revenue & Customs?

Doing your training contract in government is a unique and exciting way to qualify. We spoke to Charles, a trainee in HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Solicitor’s Office, to get the lowdown.

  • Last updated Apr 8, 2019 11:58:15 AM
  • Article Provided by Government Legal Profession

Why did you choose to do your training contract within government? 
The opportunity to work on interesting high-profile issues was a strong motivator, as was the public service aspect. I had previously worked for the Ministry of Defence (MOD) as an engineer, so once I had made the switch to law, working for the Government Legal Profession (GLP) seemed a natural fit.

What was the first day of your training contract like?
The standard induction talks and training made up the bulk of the first day, along with meeting the other trainees and getting settled into my team—VAT Litigation. I then had my first meeting with my supervisor and was handed 15 cases to run myself, worth several million pounds. This was initially quite daunting as I knew virtually nothing about VAT Litigation. Fortunately support in the team was at hand to talk me through the basics and answer any nuanced questions I had.

Which seat are you currently doing? What do you enjoy most about it? 
I’m currently in the Business Tax, Strategic Anti-Avoidance and Constitution, Functions and Tax Administration advisory team in HMRC (a team desperately in need of a good acronym). The best part of this seat is the variety of the work—it is essentially the Swiss army knife team of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). I’ve been able to work on Finance Bill measures, draft secondary legislation and provide advice on a wide range of legal matters.

What are you doing next?
I’m moving to the HMRC Commercial team. Even government bodies need lawyers to work on procurement contracts. 

How are seats chosen? 
In HMRC the trainees have four seats, which are six months in length. The first two are litigation seats; the latter two are advisory seats. Towards the end of each seat, trainees are asked to provide their top two preferences. With these preferences in mind, the training principal and the various team leaders allocate trainees to seats. Typically, trainees get one of their preferences.

What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis as a trainee? 
In litigation seats, the majority of the time is spent running your own cases: drafting statements of case; advising clients; instructing counsel; or preparing for hearings. In some seats, trainees will also assist with other lawyers’ cases, but generally speaking the majority of the work is done on your own cases. Trainees also have the opportunity to undertake advocacy in the lower courts and tribunals. In advisory seats, trainees will advise clients on a wide range of legal matters pertaining to the particular legal specialism of the team they are in. In most advisory seats, trainees will also draft secondary legislation. Less frequently, trainees will have the opportunity to work on specific measures included within primary legislation. 

How many other trainees were there in your intake? How, if at all, has this made a difference to your training experience?
There were around 45 trainees in my intake across the Government Legal Profession (GLP), ten of whom were placed in HMRC. There’s some degree of mixing as a result of the GLP trainee social calendar, but in the day-to-day working environment trainees employed by HMRC, the Government Legal Department, etc, are fairly separate.

A relatively small intake has meant that there’s typically one trainee per team in HMRC, with a few of the larger teams having two trainees. This has resulted in a relative abundance of support and resources available for assisting and training for each trainee.

What is the support system like? What do you do when you’ve got a problem or are stuck on a project? 
There’s always someone to ask if you need help with something, and everyone is quite happy to help. There are more formal support systems in place as well, including a buddy system with second-year trainees and regular meetings with the trainee steering group to sort out any issues that trainees have. 

What are some of the things you know now about training contracts that you wish you’d known before applying?
When applying, you’re often told that attention to detail is the key to success. However, which details to pay attention to and which details aren’t that important is often only learned by actually entering into the legal world. 

What is the work-life balance like?
The 37-hour weeks, with “core hours” between 10am and 4pm (and total flexibility outside these hours) allow for a very healthy work-life balance. Practically speaking, most trainees will occasionally work more than 37 hours to meet deadlines, but working late into the night is completely unheard of.

What advice would you give to people currently applying for training contracts with the Government Legal Profession? 
Prepare for any online tests. You might be the perfect candidate for the GLP in all other respects, but if you can’t get past the type of online tests that are used, you won’t get the opportunity to prove it. Should you reach the final assessment centre stage, you’ll be given information on what to expect and you should prepare as much as you can to demonstrate you have the qualities and skills that will be assessed there.

For more information about the Government Legal Profession, head here. 

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