James Curran joined Burnetts as a Trainee Solicitor in March 2019. Here he offers an insight into starting out on a legal career.
I studied International Politics at City University London, then undertook a Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course at Northumbria University.
My first exposure to law was work experience in a law firm at 16 and I absolutely hated it. The experience put me off for many years.
It was only after coming to Burnetts that I thought I could enjoy this as a career. Working at Burnetts showed me the legal professional wasn’t filled with the horrors I thought it was going to be and I found it personally rewarding.
I was persuaded by family, my mum is a solicitor, and my personal experience with Burnetts to give the legal profession a shot and went back to university to do the Graduate Diploma in Law.
Securing a training contract
The competition is intense and only a small percentage of applicants are successful each year.
The first time I applied to Burnetts I got to the last stage, the presentation, but unfortunately, I wasn’t selected. I took it on the chin, reflected on my experience, tried again a year later and clinched it.
That’s not uncommon. Just because you get rejected once doesn’t mean you’re destined for the scrapheap. Most people get turned down at least once and many might apply four or five times to different firms before they manage to clinch one.
The key is to reflect on your experiences, learn from any mistakes and above all, be persistent.
Life at Burnetts
You don’t realise when you’re doing your degree that you are barely scratching the surface of the legal profession. There is so much you don’t know, not just about the law but practically what it means to be in the legal profession.
Time recording for every six minutes of your day, dictating documents, compliance, the complex IT systems, billing clients and even the phone systems; they are all new to you.
From the first day at Burnetts you are being trained. I spent a good part of my first week in client meetings which means you instantly get a feel of cases you’re going to working on and you see solicitors in action, that was a real eye-opener.
I was nervous at first but now after six months I feel very settled. Being in the legal professional is a closeted little world, everyone speaks some strange alternative language called the law and there’s a set way of doing things, but everyone’s very friendly and you just embrace it with a positive mindset.
I meet with my mentor every three to four weeks. Along with making sure we are meeting our training requirement they make sure that we feel like we are progressing.
Burnetts will open up as much client contact for you as they can. They want you used to talking to clients. They take feedback really seriously and it is always available to trainees.
How trainees operate depends on the specific team you are with but generally you will be assisting a senior fee earner in their daily tasks. This means to start with you will get lots of research tasks, for which the skills you’ve learned at university prove most useful.
As you begin to settle in you will get more substantial work. My first training contract position was with the Corporate team, after a while I got odd clauses of contracts to draft. It starts slowly and I got a lot of feedback straight away. And it just got bigger and bigger. After six months I don’t think there was any variety of work that the Corporate Team did that I hadn’t experienced for myself.
If I ever felt unsure about a piece of work, it’s not a daunting atmosphere where I couldn’t approach someone for guidance. Everyone in your team and the wider office will help you if they can. The view is that if something goes wrong it reflects badly on the whole team.
The trainees at Burnetts tend to stick together, as trainees we’re all in it together so support each other.
Burnetts is not a firm where the trainees are expected to work deep into the evening or take your laptop home every night. The firm has made a big internal push on mental health awareness.
Best advice for those considering a career in law?
I’d emphasise the importance of getting work and life experience before you go for a training contract.
If you have a straight law degree: you’re 21 and fresh out of university. You will be competing against not just your peers but people who’ve done a conversion course and are several years older.
That experience gives a massive advantage because they likely have a bigger field of life experiences they can talk about; they might have kids, they will likely have had a job, they might have been travelling, volunteered for charity or have extensive legal work experience and all the internal confidence which comes from that.
Look for things to improve. If your CV is basic, flesh it out and improve its format. If you think you’ve got an awkward style in interview, practice and work on it.
You need to make sure your CV is packed and interesting. No activity, volunteering or hobby is a waste of time if it fills out your CV and if you can discuss it with passion in any interview.
And don’t be put off, try, try, try again to get a training contract. It’s not a disgrace if you’re not successful straight away. Keep plugging away and most people eventually make it.
If you would like to undertake your training contract at one of the largest firms in Northern England, we would like to hear from you. Here are details on 2022 Training Contracts.