Life as an in-house trainee

It’s now 18 months since I started training in-house at BT. I’m about to begin my third seat in BT’s competition and regulatory law team and I’ve never regretted my decision to train and qualify in-house.

This is my story of why I decided to start my legal career in-house, rather than accept an offer to train in private practice.

I first heard about BT’s legal graduate programme when BT attended a graduate recruitment fair at Aston University. There are few corporate in-house opportunities available to legal graduates, so I also applied to private practice firms. I maintain that your success will be driven by your attention to the quality (and not the quantity), of your applications. I managed to secure a vacation scheme at Wragge & Co and thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks working in the firm. I was offered a training contract, and then had a difficult decision to make.

How would my in-house training contract be perceived?

It was a difficult decision to make because the route to qualification has traditionally been through a private practice law firm. However, access to the legal profession is changing rapidly, with more apprenticeships on offer, and an increasing awareness of qualifying through CILEx. After taking everything into consideration, I settled very firmly on training in-house.

BT
Chris Benn

So why specifically did I choose to train in-house?

I studied a four year Law with Management degree at Aston University. Since studying Business Studies at GCSE, and continuing through to A level, I’ve always had an interest in business. I was keen to apply my knowledge of business in my future career. I appreciated the need for lawyers to be commercially aware during my degree. It’s a buzzword that is commonplace in graduate recruitment, and there’s good reason for this. Being commercially aware is at the heart of being a good lawyer, and more importantly, a good in-house lawyer.

During my degree I had the opportunity to work for a year in UBS Global Asset Management’s in-house legal team. This was my first taste of what life could be like in-house. Within six months I was very set on working in-house at some point in my future legal career; I just didn’t think at the time, it would be possible so early on.

At UBS I felt my advice was really valued by my business colleagues (who were my client), and that I was an integral part of their team. Though I don’t have a great deal of experience working in private practice, my perception was that – compared to in-house – the relationship with the client might be a more “them and us” scenario; with a separation between the client and the solicitor.

Now that I’ve had more experience in-house, I feel increasingly more included within the teams I support. My clients are not looking solely for my legal advice; there have been occasions when I have been asked for my commercial opinion.

BT’s in-house training contract was particularly appealing because of the opportunity (and challenge) of studying the Legal Practice Course part-time over the first two years of the three-year training contract. I was enticed by the opportunity of training in-house for three years and experiencing five seat rotations under the supervision of experienced and specialist lawyers, all of whom would have different backgrounds and private practice experience.

For me, it presented a valuable learning environment and a chance to develop personally into a great lawyer. BT’s legal graduates are part of the wider business and technology graduate programme. Another draw to train in-house with BT was that I would develop not only as a lawyer, but as a business advisor, by having access to commercial training and personal development opportunities.

What I hadn’t fully appreciated…

In hindsight, I had not fully appreciated the potential for a better work-life balance while working in-house. I had heard that it is one of the main reasons for those who make the decision to work in-house after training in private practice. I feel very much in control of the hours I work the majority of the time. Of course, in-house you’re still expected to be very willing to work late into the night where that’s necessary to meet the client’s needs. However, that tends to come and go with business requirements – it’s not consistently the norm. By being incredibly close to your client, it helps to build that all important rapport. You and your client share the company’s common purpose, goals, strategy and values; meaning there’s a better chance of a more effective and productive working relationship between the in-house lawyer and the client.

And from a personal perspective, I find I have the time to enjoy my life outside of work; from seeing my friends and partner (who lives in Birmingham – the flexibility of being in-house makes this easier!) to tweeting, blogging and training for my next race; in this case, Brighton Marathon in April 2015.

A few final thoughts

In-house training opportunities are few and far between. I can name a handful of companies that offer training contracts to external candidates, and a few more that provide training opportunities to their existing employees. Training in-house has enabled me to sharpen my commercial acumen and develop my legal skills, and I’ve had regular exposure to my clients; not least because they could be sitting in the same office building as me!

Chris Benn is a trainee solicitor at BT. He provides advice and mentoring to law students via Twitter and his blog.

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