Name: Erica Lehmann
Position: Trainee solicitor
Degree: BA English Literature and History of Art (Hons); MA English Literature; MA Law
University: Andrews University (USA); University of Toronto; University of Bristol
Hobbies: Food and art
Current department: Insurance – Professional Risks
Number of TC applications made and interviews attended: 6/4
Why did you decide to train as a solicitor?
Before deciding to train as a solicitor, I was a DPhil English Literature student at the University of Oxford. Some way into that degree, I realised that a life in academia was not entirely for me.
My jobs and extra-curricular activities throughout my studies lent towards the commercial and even entrepreneurial, and although I tremendously enjoyed English as a discipline, I decided that a career of research and teaching would not make use of all my strengths and interests.
While I took the time to decide what I did want to do with my career, I worked in international development in Oxford University’s executive office – including a very exciting and high-level secondment to Hong Kong. That experience put me in contact with solicitors from an array of practice areas. Some worked in financial services; others in insurance; some effected billion-pound property transactions; and others still managed educational and arts trusts. Those contacts impressed on me the variety of opportunity available through a legal career and a desire for that sort of variety convinced me to train as a solicitor.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to secure a training contract?
When I decided to train as a solicitor, I thought that my previous experience as an academic and university administrator, my international background, and the array of extra-curricular activities I was involved in would be assets to my legal job applications. In fact, I found it difficult to explain to prospective legal employers why I had given up a promising career to pursue law. In my first interview, my variety of interests came across as a lack of focus rather than assets to my application.
After the disappointment of an unsuccessful interview, I gave more thought to the way that I presented myself and my experiences. I made sure that every answer I gave in interviews addressed the questions, “why law?”; “why me?”; “why the law firm I was applying to?” These seem like obvious points to address in making an application to a law firm but thinking back to that first unsuccessful interview, I know that I could have addressed these key questions better in my answers.
What was the toughest training contract interview question you were asked (at any firm) and how did you answer?
I never found it easy to describe my weaknesses. It is difficult to describe a genuine weakness without revealing something unflattering about yourself. I was once advised to choose a characteristic or habit that is / was a weakness and describe how I am / was working to improve that trait. That tactic felt like an authentic approach to an awkward question and worked for me.
Tell us a bit about the type of work handled by the department you’re in at the moment…
My current department focuses on the defence of professional indemnity claims against solicitors, brokers, and surveyors and also provides policy coverage advice. I am responsible for my own caseload and also assist my colleagues on discrete tasks or on an ongoing basis on large and / or complex claims.
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
My colleagues are one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. I consider myself fortunate to work with people who are not only extremely competent professionally but who are also interesting and interested.
Apart from my colleagues, I enjoy the variety and intellectual challenge offered by my job. I was driven to train as a solicitor because I wanted a career with these qualities, and the RPC training contract has not disappointed me.
What about your job didn’t you expect before you started?
RPC promised a training contract characterised by a high level of responsibility. However, I did not expect to be managing my own caseload in my first and second seats. The opportunity has given me an invaluable insight into what my post-qualification role might look like and I have a great sense of achievement knowing that my supervisors have entrusted me the sorts of cases currently on my desk. While some of my matters are relatively straighttorward and low-value disputes, others are quite complex. The responsibility is challenging but I am enjoying the learning opportunity.
Who’s the most recent email in your inbox from, and what’s it about?
The most recent email in my inbox is a 28-page letter from a Claimant’s solicitors. These particular solicitors are notoriously aggressive and the letter made me groan. I will make myself a strong coffee and unpick the letter later. It will be interesting to see if the letter is mostly bluster and a pressure tactic for settlement or if the Claimant’s solicitors advance any new and valid arguments.
Where’s the best place to go to get your office’s gossip?
The best place to get our office’s gossip is my current pod. I sit with a fun, witty and intelligent group of colleagues and not much gets past us. This is one of the key reasons why I enjoy working in the RPC Bristol office. My colleagues are not only excellent lawyers but are also genuinely nice people who include me, as a trainee, in both the serious work and the laughter and good times. A good level of banter and gossip seems to me to be a sign of a happy ship.
Describe your training partner in three words.
Friendly. Funny. Able.
Tell us two truths and one lie about yourself (in any order).
- I spent a summer touring with a major UK band.
- I am a classically trained cellist.
- I’ve had tea with Banksy.
If you had not decided to become a lawyer, what career would you have chosen?
If I had not become a lawyer, I would have pursued a career as an art curator or sought a university directorship.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?
I think that the legal profession is more demanding than it has ever been before. To succeed in a legal career, you must be more dedicated and more tenacious than you ever imagined you might have to be.
However, because the legal marketplace has changed, and is changing, so dramatically, the legal profession is also able to offer prospective lawyers more opportunity than ever before. I would advise prospective lawyers to be prepared that success in this profession will involve more than putting in the hours or just hard work.
That said, a career in law will reward your efforts by being interesting, challenging and the doorway to great opportunities.