Fran Pilcher, a trainee at Linklaters, says that for trainees looking to understand the commercial rationale behind their work “the key is to ask questions and to remember to step back and think about how things fit together as a whole.”
Name: Fran Pilcher
Degree: English Literature with Russian
Universities: University of Leeds, Moscow State University
GDL or LPC: GDL at BPP, and LPC at the College of Law
Department: Project Finance
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?I wanted to work in a stimulating environment doing work which would challenge me and alongside bright and engaging people, so the legal profession seemed a smart move. I was also keen on working within the corporate sphere (and had decided that being a solicitor rather than a barrister was the correct route for me), and particularly somewhere that would offer the chance to live and work abroad.
Why did you choose your firm? I knew that Linklaters was highly regarded and had an excellent reputation but it was during a Linklaters presentation at university that I was particularly struck by the ambition of the firm. It was that, together with the global nature of the firm and the overseas secondment opportunities, which made me particularly keen to apply.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? My second seat secondment to Moscow was a brilliant experience as I was given greater responsibility and at a much earlier stage than I might otherwise have been in the London office.
What does your typical day involve? I’m currently in the Projects department, so my workload can depend on whether one of the deals I’m working on is in a busy phase or not. If so, I could be corresponding with the client or the lawyers/parties on the other side, co-ordinating the ancillary aspects of the deal that I might be managing independently, or assisting with the drafting of transaction documents. If my deals are quiet, a typical day could involve anything from standalone pieces of research and the subsequent memos or emails of advice that go to the client or Partner to perhaps helping put together a precedent for our internal knowhow collections.
There’s a lot to get involved with aside from the work though; for example, I volunteer as a mentor to an AS-level student from a nearby school. Also, there will often be a talk or lunchtime lecture to go to if you have time. Recently, we had US advocates talking about the pro bono work they do trying to free innocent people from Death Row in the States. And Clare Balding will be coming in this month as part of the Gender Network’s ‘Inspiring Women’ series.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? The Projects department at Linklaters on the whole handles large transactions involving projects based all over the world, in particular within the Energy sector. For example, I’ve been involved on deals for LNG projects in Canada, petrochemicals plants in Russia and carbon capture and storage plants in the UK. We also work on large infrastructure deals such as the financing of airports and roads in the UK and Russia.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? I find it really interesting to see what’s going on behind the scenes on these large, often innovative, energy projects, especially considering the politics that underpin developments in the Energy sector. As much as it might be a cliché, I do also really enjoy working with the people here; Linklaters is a really open and friendly place, and you find yourself working in teams with incredibly bright and knowledgeable people.
What are the worst aspects of your job? As a junior at a firm like Linklaters it can be difficult to have control over your workload, or to gain much visibility of what’s coming your way. As a trainee you need to be careful not to lose sight of the bigger picture when you are working on a task, as without a sense of the underlying commercial rationale it’s difficult to learn from what you’re doing. I think the key is to ask questions and to remember to step back and think about how things fit together as a whole.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Don’t become a solicitor just because it’s deemed to be a safe option in the current climate; you need to have some underlying interest in the law and in the nature of your clients’ businesses, otherwise you’ll find it extremely difficult to be enthusiastic about the work you’re asked to do.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? It’s crucial to aim for a firm that’s right for you. I think the only way to gauge that is to apply to go on open days as early as possible so that you start picking up on the differences between larger firms such as Linklaters and, say, the smaller niche firms.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? I was lucky in that I was able to dedicate significant time in my final year at university to my applications. I only did five or six in the end but I spent a long time on each, and I think it’s important not to underestimate how much time it takes to do one of these applications properly.
One of the advantages of immersing yourself like this is that you’re constantly in interview mode – continuously preparing for the types of questions you might expect. Therefore, when it comes to interview day, you’re considerably more fluent at delivering convincing answers with confidence.
How is law in practice different from studying law? On the GDL I found it fascinating doing a whirlwind tour of the seven key fields of law. Though the GDL lays a strong foundation, the onus is certainly on you to pick up as much as possible whilst on the course.
The LPC is certainly more relevant for the work that you do at Linklaters and there’s plenty of material covered in there that you’ll fall back on once you’re at the firm. However, the learning certainly continues as you move through each seat at the firm.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? I think at a place like Linklaters they are looking for people who are enthusiastic and project this with confidence. Not only do they want people who are diligent, hard working, sometimes measured, they are keen to find people that are friendly and easy to get along with; it certainly helps things along when you’re working alongside people with a sense of humour.