Carolyn Gillespie, Lightsource

Lightsource trainee Carolyn Gillespie talks about in-house training contracts

Name: Carolyn Gillespie

Company: Lightsource Renewable Energy

Position: Trainee solicitor

Degree: Law

Universities: LLB Law at the University of Warwick; Masters in International and Comparative Law at Duke University, USA

GDL or LPC: LPC

Hobbies: Singing (I was classically trained before singing jazz standards with a big band at university) and exploring London

Department: Legal

Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?

It was a profession I always admired.

Why did you choose to go in-house?

I have always been drawn to entrepreneurship. One of my key goals was to complete a training contract with a strong sense of commercial perspective.

What has been the highlight of your training contract so far?

The day we were accredited by the SRA. I had worked as a legal assistant with Lightsource for almost a year before the SRA accreditation came through, and even though I always felt like a trainee thanks to the dedication and support of my training principal Ece Gürsoy, it was wonderful to be a part of spearheading our training contract program, which hopefully will continue to build on its success.

What does your typical day involve?

There is no typical day. That is the most exciting part of being an in-house trainee, particularly at Lightsource. There is always something new to learn as long as you stay flexible and keep your mind open.

Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department?

We have split our legal department into teams: commercial/corporate/project finance; property and construction. I am currently sitting with the construction team, which essentially revolves around the lifespan of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts and operation and maintenance (O&M) contracts – the contracts under which you build and maintain solar photovoltaic projects. However, as I support all teams to an extent, I find that often my work cuts across various departments: on a day-to-day basis I could be on anything from negotiating a non-disclosure agreement to preparing a suite of investment documents for our finance team or completing an EPC contract for the construction of a solar power plant for our project team.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?

The guidance. Not only do I have the support of our training principal, Ece, but I am privileged to work directly alongside a team of eight other qualified (and often dual-qualified) lawyers. Because we have such a friendly and close-knit team it is an extremely supportive environment, which in turn allows me to comfortably take on greater responsibility.

What is the worst aspect of your job?

The commute. There is nothing more terrible than the Central line on a hot summer’s day.

What is the biggest misconception about the legal profession?

Most people seem to naturally assume all legal work (or all ‘exciting’ legal work) is litigious. This is completely inaccurate – an enormous amount of legal work is transactional. And it can be just as adrenaline-charged. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?

Go and get some experience!

What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career?

Giving up too soon, or only joining the profession because you can’t think of anything better to do.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?

The labyrinthine path to a training contract is just soul destroying. The UK training contract system is unique in its impenetrability – foreign lawyers are always horrified to hear that the average UK law firm recruits two years in advance! That’s why programs such as in-house trainee schemes and Accutrainee are so important for talented young legal graduates.

How is law in practice different from studying law?

You have an indulgence of time in study that you simply never get in practice. In study, you may have months to prepare an essay on one legal point. In reality, someone will come running up to you and say: ”We found this problem. We have ten minutes to fix it – what can we do?”

What are the common attributes of successful candidates?

Dedication, composure and relentless persistence.