Trainee Alexander Redpath gives his take on studying and working in Pinsent Masons’ Belfast office.
Name: Alexander Redpath
Firm: Pinsent Masons Belfast LLP
Degree: Law LL.B
Universities: Queen’s University
GDL or LPC: Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Legal Studies (Northern Irish Equivalent)
Hobbies: Rugby, Politics and Church activities
Department: Litigation and Compliance
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor? I come from a legal family so training as a solicitor was always on the cards. I decided to study law at Queen’s and found it fascinating. My first priority for a career was to do something I found intellectually stimulating so the law seemed like a natural choice.
Why did you choose your firm? Pinsent Masons has always enjoyed a high profile in the Northern Irish legal market through our predecessor L’Estrange and Brett. For over 200 years our firm has offered a leading legal service in Belfast. This was a tradition I wanted to contribute too.
The firm also offers an excellent financial package which beats most, if not all, of our competitors.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? We acted for the Financial Services Authority in securing a judgment for £20.2 million against Francois De Dietrich as well as appointing a provisional liquidator in respect of his company ETIC Solutions Limited following allegations that he was running an illegal “ponzi” style scheme in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
What does your typical day involve? My day can be incredibly varied but will usually involve some research, admin, preparing court bundles, attending court hearings and drafting letters and legal documents.
We also spend a significant amount of time on external training. The training system in Northern Ireland is different to its equivalent in Great Britain. Our training contract and LPC are rolled into a two year apprenticeship. This means 8 months of our two year contract involves us training 4 days a week at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen’s University or the Graduate School of Professional Legal Education at University of Ulster Magee.
This is complemented by internal training on specialist commercial topics at least once a week provided internally by the firm.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? In Belfast Pinsent Masons offers a leading commercial litigation service. We are market leaders in commercial litigation, health and safety and licensing.
Pinsent Masons has a significant presence in each of the UK’s three legal jurisdictions and its international profile, which already encompasses four offices in Asia Pacific and two offices in the Gulf, now also includes two offices in Europe (Paris and Munich). This presents unrivalled opportunities for a trainee in Northern Ireland.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? There is nothing like being involved in a winning team. Pouring yourself into a case for weeks or months and getting the right outcome is hard to beat.
What are the worst aspects of your job? You need to adapt your life around your work. Sometimes long hours are unavoidable e.g. during a large transaction or in the run up to an important case. It’s important to make sure your social life and external commitments are sufficiently flexible to take account of this.
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession? There seems to be a belief out there that lawyers are sly and dishonest. That attitude is a fast-track to serious trouble. Your personal reputation, and more importantly the reputation of the profession, depends on your personal integrity.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Get as much practical experience as you can. It’ll help you get a training contract, let you know what areas interest you and let you know if legal practice is for you. Being a solicitor isn’t the right option for everyone so test the water before you dive in. I would strongly recommend you undertake a vacation placement at Pinsent Masons if you can, as this is the route through which we recruit the majority of our trainees.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career?Academics are important but aren’t everything. Focus on having a well rounded university experience. Not only will it impress prospective employers but it’s good for your mental health!
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? It’s a very tough market and you need something to make you stand out. I managed this through involvement on my students’ union executive.
However there are a myriad of things you can do. Sporting excellence, clubs and societies, years abroad and impressive work experience can all make your application stand out.
How is law in practice different from studying law? Commercial considerations are always the bottom line. You can give your client the most nuanced, magnificently argued advice but if there’s no money to be had you’ve wasted your time.
You have to know your client and their commercial priorities to give them individually tailored legal advice.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Firms are looking for academic excellence, strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, personal organisation and evidence of a strong team mentality. If you want to work in a commercial law firm you also need to have a genuine curiosity about the business world.