Sarah Rees-Leonard, TLT

After a career as an art specialist TLT trainee Sarah Rees-Leonard has moved into the legal profession…


Name: Sarah Rees-Leonard

Firm: TLT

Position: Trainee Solicitor

Degree: BA English; Mst History of Art; GDL; LPC

Universities: Bristol, Oxford, UWE

GDL or LPC: Both

Hobbies: Sailing, SCUBA diving, travelling, theatre going, art appreciation

Department: Private Business Group

Why did you decide to train as a solicitor? Having worked as an art specialist for a number of years, I wanted a change of career. I chose to retrain as a solicitor because I wanted a challenge that would promote commercial thinking, problem solving, research, client contact and relationship building across a range of sectors.

Why did you choose your firm? TLT immediately stood out for me due to the firm’s ambition and commercial savvy, teamed with affable people who manage a healthy work/life balance.

What has been the highlight of your training contract so far? There have been several highlights and these range from more particular things, such as: facilitating a deal between several different parties; persuading a circuit judge of the merits of a bank’s application on one of my first advocacy experiences; agreeing contact for a father who had not seen his children in several months; or the buzz of being given responsibility on difficult cases, working through a problem and exceeding a client’s expectations, to more general highlights such as working within a good team and focusing on a practice area that I really enjoy.

What does your typical day involve? Trite as it sounds, there isn’t really a typical day! Some days can involve spending all day at court with a client, or meeting new clients to take instruction; other days can involve a combination of researching and writing journal articles, drafting agreements, deeds or statements, telephone correspondence and meetings before a networking event or seminar in the evening. There is a great deal of variety.

Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by your department? The Private Business Group handles both Tax and Estate Planning and Family matters. These range from complex tax planning, trust work, will drafting, powers of attorney, mental capacity issues and probate in the Tax and Estate Planning Team to divorce, financial settlements, children matters, co-habitation and pre-nuptial agreements in Family. Both teams have international aspects as well as contentious and non-contentious elements; clients have a range of financial backgrounds (not every client is of high-net worth) and the group works closely with other departments within the firm.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Definitely the problem solving: meeting a client, identifying the issues and working out the most commercially viable way forward as part of a team. Each scenario is different and it keeps you mentally on your toes.

What are the worst aspects of your job?That there are too few hours in the day. I always have a plan of what I want to achieve in the day, but inevitably things come up which often result in my list being longer rather than shorter at the end of the day! But as I like being busy, it isn’t really too terrible.

What is the biggest misconception of the legal profession? That it is dry black letter work. These days the legal profession needs people that can do more than read statute (itself no mean feat). Increasingly clients look to their solicitor to assist them commercially. It is exciting and requires you to really get to grips with your client’s background or sector.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law? Have a quiet confidence in yourself and your own abilities. There is a lot of competition out there and sometimes it can get pretty tough, but staying true to yourself and keeping an open mind helps you make the most every opportunity and sets you apart.

What are the biggest pitfalls students should try to avoid when pursuing a legal career? Loss of perspective. A lot of students get so focused on what they think they want out of a situation that they forget to be flexible and open to learning from new experiences.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract? Definitely the deadlines. Having a fairly demanding job at the time of applying for vacation schemes meant that meeting the January deadlines was a real challenge. However, it was definitely worth it. I can’t recommend a vacation scheme enough; it really gives you the chance to interview a firm, as well as the other way round – something that is harder to get out of a training contract assessment day.

How is law in practice different from studying law? Chalk and cheese! Throwing real people and real situations into the mix completely changes everything that you learn from books. You can’t underestimate a solid understanding of legal principles, but being able to relate them to the particular set of facts before you is the real skill. Although academic role plays are a useful learning tool, it is hard to replicate the real dynamics of working in a team on a particular matter and the problems that will arise. Areas that you loved studying are not necessarily the ones you most enjoy in practice – it can be quite an eye opener.

What are the common attributes of successful candidates? Interpersonal skills and self awareness.