Part I is here, but read on below for Part II
6) Coordinating lawyers is like herding cats
No matter how you split up a large organisation (departments, practice groups, teams etc), and no matter how many policies you try and implement, trying to coordinate lawyers in general is like herding cats.
Take our recent drive (in my department) of trying to get people to allocate work to a central secretarial work flow – that is to say, to get people to send any work by email to a central secretarial email address, and have someone heading up the secretarial team allocating work to individual secretaries on the basis of how busy they were. The response to this was varied, in that people chose to ignore the new policy in a variety of ways – by basically doing what they had been doing beforehand (passing work to individual secretaries by hand, email, central dictation system etc).
Or to take another example (of many), as anyone who’s tried to organise a work event of any sort with lawyers, even the most basic of after-work drinks will require multiple emails, electronic calendar diary invites, at least two reminders in person, for the organiser to go around the office five minutes before setting off to round up people, and for them to collect the phone numbers of any stragglers who just have “one more email to send” (and who invariably turn up around 2 hours later, if at all).
7) People aren’t as clever as you think they are – nor do they need to be
Many trainees suffer from imposter syndrome, although oddly enough, the most confident person in my intake is the person who graduated with a 2:2 from a non-Russell Group university. Knowing that many of my fellow trainees feel out of their depth has been reassuring. Even more reassuring is the fact that I knowing many fairly senior people in my firm are much less clever than I initially thought they were – and indeed, by their own admission. One partner, for instance, mentioned to me during a graduate recruitment event that he probably wouldn’t have gotten a training contract if he were applying now. When he was applying (around 2 decades ago), he knew absolutely bugger all about City law and business – getting a 2:1 from Oxbridge (tick) and turning up to your interview on time (tick) was essentially the bar to nabbing a TC at the time.
To take another example, I once asked an associate in my team why a major client of ours (a large fund) used the nominee company structure they did. The response was “something to do with tax efficiency, but ask someone in tax”. There’s a small chance that the associate in question simply couldn’t be arsed to answer, but there’s a part of me that suspects that they didn’t actually know. And, as I found out over the course of my seat, I didn’t actually have to know what tax advantages that particular corporate structure had – procedural notes on our system would answer basic tax questions, while any tax queries not covered would be farmed out immediately to our tax team.
So the next time you don’t understand something – don’t worry. Chances are that, if it’s not covered on Practical Law, then a fellow trainee or colleague will be able to understand it. And if they don’t understand it, well, you could always ring a barrister…
At university, I used to be told off by my law professors all the time over my use of grammar and language – especially for using Americanisms. I imagine they’d be apoplectic at how most City lawyers communicate.
People no longer contact or get in touch with each other; instead, they always have to “reach out” or “connect”. If there’s an ongoing relationship between two people who wish to meet up, they “touch base”, which sounds like some euphemism for an illicit sexual encounter (as in the totally not-made-up sentence “I’m looking forward to touching base with Janine next week – I’m hoping to pump her for any useful information”).
Employees no longer perform well or meet expectations – they “fulfil KPIs”. If you send me a message, I will “revert”, as opposed to replying, as a normal person would say. And yes, I fantasise about punching every person who says “blue-sky thinking” in a non-ironic way.
The rise of corporate-speak is also driven by the need to appear professional and to airbrush any problems. Quite literally, in fact, I drafted a client email with the sentence: “having reviewed the matter, we note the following potential problems”, and received it back from my supervisor with “potential problems” crossed out and replaced with the decidedly more neutral “points to note”. Stylistically, as well, it seems people are aiming to avoid negativity at all costs. I have been told by more senior people at my firm that words such as “unfortunately”, for instance, should be replaced by phrases such as “as it turns out”. Because, obviously, there’s nothing more positive than being told that, “as it turns out, your company [is insolvent][is responsible for corporate manslaughter][owes HMRC loads of money in back taxes] etc.”
9) Secondments mean 9-to-5
While in Part I I talked about the pitfalls of working til midnight, doing a client secondment for part of your training contract is absolute bliss.* And yes, that 9-to-5 does include time for a decent lunch break, too.
Obviously, as I found out during my own client secondment, things can get pretty hands-on – I’ve had to field phone calls and give a fair amount of advice to colleagues outside of the legal team. But generally the supervision has been good, and I’ve not felt out of my depth at any point, despite the relatively small size of the legal team. I suspect this is because more complex matters are farmed out to solicitors (or, on certain contentious matters, the opinion of counsel is sought).
So, yeah – if you can, as a trainee, do a client secondment. If only because they tend to be fairly relaxed and the hours are good they’re good for building up your network and great experience for seeing things from a client’s point of view.
*With the exception of secondments to any major investment banks – in which case, expect to work 70-75-hour weeks, according to an acquaintance of mine who did a stint at the good ol’ Vampire Squid in 2015…
10) Most lawyers in my intake have secret dreams
Okay, so this might just be my trainee intake, but I’ve found out that most of the trainees at my firm are people with secret dreams. For them, law is the day job until they have the financial stability to do what they want.
I didn’t honestly expect most trainees to genuinely have a passion for commercial law, but I also didn’t expect my intake to be lukewarm – at best – on the idea of settling into law as a stable and permanent career, and becoming partner in 10 years’ time, as one might think was the case.
I think this might be because most trainees in City law aren’t inherently greedy and money-grabbing – those types of people would have done investment banking instead. At the same time, most trainees in City law are risk-averse to the point that having financial security (buying a house within 5 years of graduate and having significant savings etc) is a key priority. Virtually everyone I know at US firms is planning on doing at most 4 years, for instance, and then moving in-house or to a non-US firm for a better work-life balance.
But among the trainees I know, there are those who want to go back into academia and carry on what they loved at undergraduate level, be it jurisprudence or modern languages. There are those who want to run their own charities – ranging from social mobility foundations, housing charities, or legal aid clinics. There are those who want to run their own legal practices, but away from the auspices of City law. And then there are those who want to go into politics – a very well-trodden path over the last few decades or so.
Who knows how many of the trainees I know will ever achieve their dreams. But I genuinely hope they do one day, and make a conscious decision to do so before they settle down with a ludicrously expensive mortgage and send their children to private school, and make other financial decisions which mean that they’ll have to go onto the partnership track. After all, when you’re young, you have to dream, don’t you.