Training to be a Solicitor at Lanyon BowdlerPublished on: 10 July 2018
I have just taken over as training partner at Lanyon Bowdler but I have been heavily involved in the trainee application process and monitoring the trainees during their training contracts over the last few years. It is a very rewarding part of my job to watch young people develop into lawyers. We invest much time and consideration into selecting our trainees and giving them the best training, because if possible we would like to retain them as solicitors within the firm when they qualify. Many of our partners were once trainees and indeed our managing partner, Brian Evans, was once a trainee!
Recognition from our own young lawyers
As a firm Lanyon Bowdler is forward thinking and very client focussed. The firm provides a full range of legal advice and expertise throughout Shropshire and Herefordshire, as well as nationally. We consider the key to providing excellent service is to have excellent lawyers, and that begins with their training. This is reflected in the fact that we have won many awards at the Law Careers.net Awards. We won “Best Recruiter - Small Firm” in 2004 and 2009 and we were nominated again in 2007 and 2008. In 2017 and 2018 we won “Best Trainer - Small Firm”. These awards are granted purely on the feedback received from our existing trainees with no input from the partners. Therefore, we are understandably proud of this achievement and the recognition from our own young lawyers.
We look for rounded and self motivated individuals
In recent years Lanyon Bowdler has expanded, and this is reflected in the fact that we now offer at least three training contracts per year, usually having six - eight trainees at any one time. We look for rounded and self motivated individuals who are likely to fit the ethos of the firm, and make good solicitors who will serve our clients well. We seek solid academic performances and the nature of work experience the individual has acquired, both legal and otherwise. We are only too aware that some candidates have to finance themselves during the long and arduous training and this demonstrates resilience and passion.
It is helpful for the potential candidates to be local or have connections to the area. Interests and achievements outside of the law are also of relevance and may give an advantage to a candidate over someone with similar qualifications. We are looking to see if they are likely to be able to communicate with our clients both on a human level, and to be able to explain the legal issues and advise clients so the advice can be easily understood.
Given a choice of seats
Lanyon Bowdler covers a wide range of legal specialisms and trainees usually spend six months in a department, so that over the time of the contract they gain experience in four areas of work. They must experience both contentious and non contentious work. Where possible trainees are given a choice of seats, although over the years we have often discovered that trainees are surprised by how much they have enjoyed a seat where they thought they would have no interest at all.
Informal interview initially
The application process is usually conducted in two stages. Firstly, we have an informal interview with two of the partners, where we go through the curriculum vitae and ask questions designed to “get to know” the applicant to decide whether or not they are likely to be a good fit for the firm and our clients.
If the candidate gets through to the second interview phase they will be tested on their legal knowledge and how they apply it to a client’s situation. We provide each second interview candidate with a booklet of client scenarios covering various specialisms, the trainee will be popped into a quiet room with a hot drink and is given an hour to choose two of the scenarios and to prepare a response to the questions. They then come and deliver their responses to a panel of partners so that we can hear them communicate and see how they are likely to deliver advice to a client and what impression they will portray.
Naturally we appreciate that the candidates are only at the beginning of their career and we are not looking for the finished product but development potential. We ask ourselves can we see this candidate progressing, with guidance and supervision, into an excellent lawyer and do they have the potential to contribute to the firm in terms of business development; are they likely to develop supervision and management skills and be partnership material one day.
Chance to speak with existing trainee
Once a candidate is offered and accepts a training contract then a few weeks before they join one of our existing trainees will contact them, so that they can speak to somebody at the firm who has gone through the same process and who will answer any questions. The trainees often mix and socialise together during their contract and share experiences. There will be an initial welcome lunch for trainees where they will meet existing trainees and newly qualified solicitors and some of the partners. There are also opportunities to meet up with trainees at marketing and network events and the firm’s social events such as the Christmas party and the summer staff conference and supper.
The SRA requirement is that once a training contract has started, the trainee needs to keep a training record which must be completed throughout the two year period and submitted to the training principle at the end. It should record all the tasks completed whilst being a trainee and includes information such as – who the task was completed for, what the task was, what skills were used and what was learnt from it.
There are also the compulsory modules of the Professional Skills Course to complete. These cover client care, finance and business skills, advocacy and communication. There are a further four elective modules which the trainee chooses, according to what areas of law they are interested in, and just when they think all of the exams are over, there is a finance exam!
Although I am now rather old in the tooth I can still remember my training contract (then called “articles”). I can remember all the mistakes I made and arriving at my first day in court dressed in a new suit, ready to meet the barrister instructed on the case. As I approached the court a seagull defecated over the lapel of my new suit! I was mortified and despite vigorous cleaning of the said lapel I had to explain the large stain to the barrister and client. Fortunately they responded with good humour. The point is that during a training contract you are supposed to learn from your mistakes and how to handle yourself ready to be a solicitor and officer of the court, and of course, to serve your clients with skill, understanding and integrity. My aim as the training partner is to help the trainees get to that stage.
Blogs by current and former trainees