This article was first published in Private Client Adviser on 2 July 2015 and is reproduced by kind permission of Private Client Adviser.
The exposure to different practice areas during my training contract threw up a few unexpected surprises, including one which made me rethink my long held goal of practising in private client Seat rotation during the training contract has many benefits for trainees aside from simply acquiring knowledge of the different areas. Rotation gives trainees an opportunity to become known around their firm, thus building relationships that are invaluable for cross-selling in the future.
It also provides a great chance to gain a useful insight into and an understanding of the similarities and differences between each department within a firm.
Where possible, it seems sensible for trainees to utilise these opportunities to their fullest extent, and in very broad terms, attempting to undertake seats across the areas of business, property and private client. A good law firm will encourage trainees to do this as well as trying to accommodate them doing so.
On that note, I feel that it is worth taking other peoples advice in this respect and not just going with what you think you might want, or conversely, avoiding what you think you don’t.
Although I commenced my training contract 100 per cent committed to securing a qualification position in the family team, I was surprised how my stints in other teams transpired.
For example, I was initially convinced that I did not have a commercial law oriented mind; something that was entirely disproved by my six months with the business team during my training contract. I even had a brief moment of madness pre-qualification, where I seriously considered whether I wanted to be a commercial solicitor, which was entirely unexpected.
Furthermore I was also determined to avoid a pure property seat at all costs (having found it unbearably dry during my degree) but having listened to lots of people’s advice in this regard, I was eventually convinced to go six months with the commercial property team. Not only did I really enjoy the work, I also learnt a huge amount that has since only been useful in my role as a family solicitor.
My experience of moving between departments, and particularly my time spent in business versus private client, made me very aware of some intrinsic differences between practicing in each area. I believe that there is a public misconception that a solicitor’s role is the same regardless of their area of practice, something which I quickly discovered during my training contract is simply not the case.
Having said this, the role of a solicitor no matter what discipline, inarguably has one central pillar that is common throughout. Clients, whether businesses or individuals, want someone proficient who they have confidence in, feel comfortable with and above all, trust.
I am in no way saying that clients can be pigeonholed based on their legal needs, because of course people can often overlap as a business client and a private client – but my comments are not intended to address the fundamental similarities, but rather focus on the differences between practicing in business and practicing in private client.
One of these differences can be the individual knowledge of clients. Although clearly not always the case, businesses often have a vague to good grasp or at least some previous experience of the legal framework in which they operate, but require detailed guidance on the requirements and intricacies of individual transactions or otherwise. Individuals on the other hand will often have had no exposure to their current circumstances and therefore no knowledge of the legal issues.
Furthermore private clients, or perhaps more specifically family clients, often have a very clear idea of what they want to achieve; this can often mean it is trickier to manage their expectations. Added to this is an extra layer of emotiveness that is less common, or at least perhaps less intense in business to business relationships.
Private clients often have a strong sense of what is fair and reasonable in their circumstances, and when the law does not match up with this, to give the ‘morally sound’ result they feel they deserve; the solicitor’s role in explaining this can be a minefield.
I am of course not saying that all business owners have legal knowledge, or worse are not emotionally involved in the running of their businesses, but rather that there are undoubtedly more occasions than not where such comparisons could be made.
I hasten to conclude that none of the above is intended to be in any way a grumble, simply an observation. The matters I have touched upon can all be effectively countered with careful management of client expectations and as previously mentioned, building a solid foundation of trust with your clients from the outset.
I chose my practice area because I absolutely love to deal with individuals and their matters on a one-to-one basis, with all of the issues (both rewarding and challenging) that come with being a private client solicitor.