As a Trainee Solicitor, you typically spend the first 4-8 weeks of each seat rotation fighting what feels like an uphill battle whilst you get to grips with the new found territory that is your new department. Everything is new and unfamiliar and your experience in your previous seat where you had some comfort in finally getting to grips with what you were doing seem long gone. However, eventually things do start to fall in to place and what once seemed like an impossible mission that even Tom Cruise couldn’t conquer, becomes easier as the days go by.

Unlike my previous seat rotations, I wasn’t joining Private Client as a complete novice. I was lucky enough to have had experience as a Paralegal in Private Client prior to commencing my training contract. With that in mind, I hoped to hit the ground running and avoid the dreaded first few weeks grappling with the mountain of new information that comes as a natural consequence of starting in a new department.

It’s natural to feel slightly unnerved joining a new department and, to a certain extent, it can feel like starting a new job altogether. Despite the obvious “pre-match nerves”, I was made to feel extremely welcome by the team and in particular by the Head of Department, who had made a conscious effort throughout my previous seats to pop his head into my office to introduce himself and get to know me. This helped to put my mind at ease and made starting a completely new seat in a new department that bit more comfortable.

My second day in the department happened to be a Friday and each week the team had organised to catch up over Zoom. Either as a natural consequence of our hybrid working arrangements, or simply because I had been working in a different department, there were a number of team members who I hadn’t previously met. Consequently, it was really helpful putting their friendly faces to names so early on as I knew who to turn to if I ever needed any support (which, as a Trainee Solicitor, is inevitable!).

As a Trainee Solicitor, your role is first and foremost learning/training focussed. However, a fundamental part of the role is to make the lives of the Solicitors easier by relieving them of some of their duties as a result of taking on more and more responsibility as your confidence grows. This allows them to focus on more pressing tasks. This can mean that sometimes the first few weeks involve slightly duller tasks as those passing you work gauge what you are capable of, where your skills lie and what areas you can improve on. I had taken the first opportunity at our team meeting to share my previous experience in the hope that I could dive straight into the real meaty legal issues and I couldn’t have asked for a better response from the team.

My Head of Department talked me through the files he wanted me to work on and asked for my thoughts on how I would move them forward. Once he was satisfied I understood the assignment, I gained his trust and he began to give me more and more work. Within a few weeks, I had a number of cases in which I was responsible for, and I had drafted inheritance tax accounts for both taxable and non-taxable estates.

My workload came mostly from the two Partners in the department, but the odd drafting or letter writing exercise would be passed by the other Solicitors in the team. Learning from a number of different solicitors can be really beneficial as you pick up different tips and techniques from each person. I have noticed that each solicitor operates slightly differently depending on their own preferred method of working. At first, it can be a bit confusing trying to remember their favoured approach, but it demonstrates that there are more than one way to skin a cat and helps to identify what works for you.

A natural consequence of being given such great responsibility throughout my seat in Private Client meant that complicated legal issues would arise from time to time in which I needed support. Although generally I would seek advice from the Solicitor who had ultimate responsibility for the file, each and every one of the other Solicitors would be more than happy to help and share their wealth of knowledge with you, which made life much easier when someone was unavailable and I needed a swift response. 

Throughout my seat, I have had plenty of client contact: be that by Zoom, email, letter and telephone. As Covid-19 restrictions have begun to ease, we have also been introducing clients back into the office and it has been really interesting shadowing the team in face to face meetings. I am extremely grateful that I was involved in so many meetings to take instructions for new wills, estate administration and Lasting Powers of Attorney. I was also used as the “team witness” which meant if there was a Will signing in the office and I was available, I would often don my best handwriting and be the second witness. This has been an invaluable experience as it reinforced the importance of going through the Will with the client again and again and making sure that they are happy with it before proceeding to have the Will signed.

As a firm we act on behalf of a number of high net worth clients, some of which I got the opportunity to meet. Discussing their assets and the various options open to them  was fascinating and I particularly enjoyed the problem solving aspect of it. Naturally, whilst working in the private client team, some clients sadly pass away and I assisted in dealing with the administration of their estate which proved to be really fruitful training experience involving complicated trust and tax related issues.

One common ailment of Private Client is the amount of paperwork and admin and I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t any, but my experience was far more enriching than being stuck behind my desk or beside the printer for the majority of the day sorting post. Aside from the typical “legal work”, every now and again I was even given the responsibility of attending properties to arrange estate agent valuations or clearances which provided a nice break from being the office.

Private Client is an extremely personal area of law that involves lots of client contact and sometimes, quite emotional, delicate and sensitive issues. By being exposed to so many clients either following a bereavement or to take new instructions on a Will, I feel that my confidence and skills in dealing with clients has improved tenfold. It has also been rewarding to provide closure to families suffering a recent loss or put their minds at ease knowing that their affairs are all in order.

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