Former journalist Rory Trust is now a trainee at Burges Salmon – while the hours and competition for jobs are similar the pay and career prospects in law are much better.
Name: Rory Trust
Firm: Burges Salmon LLP
Position: 1st year Trainee
Universities: University of the West of England
GDL or LPC: College of Law
Hobbies: socialising, cooking, cinema, hockey
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor? Becoming a solicitor was a career change from journalism. I was working on national newspapers and the combination of the industry really struggling with falling sales, wanting better job security and looking for a greater challenge made me look elsewhere. Law ticked all the boxes. It combines the academic and intellectual rigour of black letter law with the hands-on application of your knowledge to create solutions for clients. As a journalist you scratch the surface of problems, raise questions and get to know a little bit about lots of things. As a solicitor you need to delve right down to the nub of a problem and give clients accurate, realistic and commercial answers. I find it really satisfying to actually get to the bottom of why things work the way they do, even if that does mean trawling through lots of tedious legislation. In terms of hours and competition for jobs I would say both are pretty similar, but the pay and career prospects in law are much better.
Why did you choose your firm? I was looking for a medium-sized firm that was big enough to offer excellent training across all departments, but not so big that you lost any sense of community and stewardship. I also wanted to train at a firm where the different departments were genuinely valued rather than being add-ons to the corporate practice. Burges Salmon was a perfect fit. It is a top-50 law firm and attracts high-quality work, but with only one office there is a real sense of identity. There isn’t one department which dominates and the firm seems to punch above its weight across a range of sectors. I think being based in Bristol attracts people with a more realistic view of life and the office feels open and friendly. I also wanted a six-seat training contract as it means you get a wider experience before deciding where you want to qualify. The fact it has one of the best retention rates and was a very steady ship during the recession was also a big attraction for me as someone changing career.
What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? This should probably be some impressive legal event, but the highlight so far has been getting to drive a partner’s BMW 6 series back from a client meeting. Driving along country roads through some beautiful scenery was a pretty relaxing way to spend the afternoon at work, although the partner did look a little shocked when I overtook a couple of tractors – I’m used to driving an old banger where you have to stamp on the accelerator to overtake, turns out you don’t really need to do that in a 6 series.
What does your typical day involve? I get in about 8.45, change out of my cycling gear and turn on my computer. I’ll have a quick look at my to-do list and make sure I know what needs to be done, in what order and that I haven’t forgotten anything. Then depending on what’s on, typical tasks involve drafting research notes, sitting in on conference calls, filing documents at court and drafting correspondence with clients. If I’m not busy I’ll go for lunch with the other trainees, although more often than not we’ve got a training event with lunch provided. Once I’ve done the initial research on a matter I’ll often get to have a go at drafting substantive documents. The department are also good at getting me involved with client meetings where possible and I’ve been along to two in my first couple of weeks. When I finish depends how busy things are but it’s nearly always between 6 and 7.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? The Planning Unit deals with consenting for a wide range of development and issues associated with development. This includes work involving planning applications, appeals, applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, compulsory purchase, highways issues, town and village green issues. It’s a real mix of contentious and non-contentious work. We do a lot of energy work, which covers everything from onshore and offshore wind farms, solar, anaerobic digestors, nuclear power stations and conventional power stations. We advise both local authorities and developers on a variety of other projects including road building, rail schemes and housing development.
I’ve only been here a few weeks but so far I’ve been involved with a wind farm appeal, work on a nuclear power station, defending a town and village green application and researching compulsory purchase powers in relation to a major road project.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? It’s a relatively small team so you quickly feel like a part of it and people are genuinely grateful when you do a piece of work. Getting positive feedback from people and being trusted to do something more substantive is always rewarding.
What are the worst aspects of your job? Generally people are pretty good about not giving trainees admin tasks, but billing is one of those things which nobody seems to enjoy and often comes our way. I know it’s good to get some experience of how it all works but trawling through spread sheets isn’t quite as fulfilling.
What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession? That we all go to court and spend our time defending criminals.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Do as much research as you can into types of firm and career paths. You need to persuade a firm or set that you really want to work for them and that you are a great fit for each other. It’s hard to do this credibly unless you have a good idea about what you want.
What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? Applying for firms without thinking whether you really want to work for them. Just because firms are the biggest or best paid doesn’t mean they’ll offer what you want from a career. There are a lot of firms out there which offer excellent training and many are very different from each other.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? Figuring out how many and which firms to apply for. A few really excellent applications go a lot further than loads of mediocre ones, but when you’re just starting out it seems impossible to figure out exactly where you should apply. That and application fatigue – once you’ve filled out a couple they all start to sound jaded and clichéd.
How is law in practice different from studying law? Law in practice is obviously much more client-focussed and constrained by budget. At college, deadlines correspond pretty neatly to the size of the task, but at work they can depend upon a host of factors. You need to adjust your approach to each piece of work depending upon the deadline, audience and depth of content. I think it’s a skill you keep learning throughout your career.
What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Preparation and dedication. You’ve got to do the research on firms and be up to date on the legal sector and commercial press to get through the application process. Applying for training contracts is really draining and it often takes more than one attempt to get through.