Toby McCrindle, law student, University of Birmingham
Week two: 32 degree heat, lunchtime ballet, theatre, dinner and sit down lunches…
14 July 2009
You may be forgiven for thinking that this headline is an advert for a city break to some in vogue European city. In fact, this has been the week so far at Baker & McKenzie. So is this really what City lawyers spend their time doing? Sadly not.
Although some of our vacation scheme group have had a relatively short supply of work in their various departments this week (in my case largely down to the fact the more senior lawyers are quite rightly occupied with looming deal closures and client matters) I’ve had the benefit of one particular trainee’s attention who has taken it upon himself to explain and talk me through what he does and how he goes about it (despite the fact he is in deep mourning for his fallen icon, the late Michael Jackson). It seems that although admittedly he has accompanied us on several of our various outings, he is entrusted with work which it seems is usually of a high level of importance.
The work a trainee will ultimately get given in a firm is of particular importance to any future trainee. Some, inexperienced as me no doubt, may think that what goes on in one firm’s corporate department might be similar to another - how much can transactional work really vary? Well, since spending time in the Baker’s corporate department it is clear that it is the access to the transactions, clients and partners that sets a firm apart from the rest from the budding lawyer’s perspective. It certainly is for me, and the image this trainee has left me with is undoubtedly a positive one.
This little article however, would not be complete if I were not to embarrass a few people as a I go. Of particular note was that one of my fellow vac schemers who, over lunch with the London office Management Committee yesterday, almost choked herself to death mid conversation whilst eating, but had the good manners to quietly leave the room before making a racket (an advert not to talk with your mouthful if ever there was one).
Joking aside, the atmosphere at the ‘ManCom’ lunch yesterday seems to typify the firm’s outlook on business and on life - friendly and relaxed, but always quietly professional. Meeting the managing partner of any office is daunting at first, but the mood began and remained relaxed throughout; so much so that after the Management Committee had departed, one vac schemer asked me how much the committee members earned, awaiting my response and seemingly impressed with my estimate, she followed in a charmingly off hand way simply by saying that ‘whenever she meets a partner, she looks to see if they are wearing a wedding ring’ (I hasten to add that what she in fact meant was that she looks to find a ring so as to ascertain whether or not they have had time, in their climb up the ladder, to have a family - a legitimate concern of any future lawyer. An unfortunate and inadvertent juxtaposition of words on her part however, turned this innocent remark into something far more amusing for us all!).
Week one: Stepping out of your comfort zone
Salad or steak? This is the crucial question under debate in the canteen mid afternoon on the second day of my placement. This has been a running theme for me and my trainee ‘buddies’ since first meeting them. On the one hand there were the meat eating, salad hating but content rugby players – and on the other the salad (and silly tasteless seeds) devouring health maniacs.
The debate is ongoing, and I think it’s probably clear which side of the line I might ordinarily fall; but this week I have found myself out of my usual comfort zone experiencing things that even the best prepared student might not expect - emphasised by the fact that as this lunchtime discussion wore on, I was eating a salad myself.
Whilst only an unexceptional tableau of a lunch between three men, the debate highlights what has been a key feature of the week so far for me – comfort zones. We’ve had the interviews and the offers, and it’s safe to say that amongst a bunch of students such as ourselves there will be one or two, if not the majority, who began the week with an inflated impression either of our own importance or brilliance. That is not to say there are any ego maniacs amongst us, but I was certainly one of this group.
However finding myself in an environment I am unfamiliar with, including the daily commute (through which the only way of surviving is to view the whole thing as an out – of – body experience), completing tasks which contained what had to be the most of amount of commercial jargon I have ever come across – something for which reading the FT cannot prepare you – and trying to fathom the computer system so I could actually begin the work, and all the while doing so in a polite and enquiring manner, has certainly amounted to a week spent safely out of my comfort zone. This dawned fully on me yesterday when I ordered a ‘skinny latte’ for the first time ever – not quite believing what I had just done. Indeed for me, it has been a week of salads.
However, vacation scheme has been seasoned with a welcome mixture of drinks, lunches and the grand finale – bowling. The evening certainly allowed everyone – including and perhaps especially - the trainees to relax. I have to say the standard varied from those, who know who they are, who managed only single figure scores to the dark horse who clocked up 156 points out of the blue. Whilst we might not all have been fully immersed in our departments yet the trainees have certainly made us welcome and I look forward to the week ahead.
The highlight: the people who work here/coming in on Friday to find out that one of our group fell asleep on the train and woke up half way to Portsmouth.
The low point: well there hasn’t been one yet!