Trainee Seats: What to Expect – Private Client

Trainee Seats: What to Expect – Private Client

Being two months into my second seat in Private Client, I thought I’d give you a flavour of the work I’ve been doing and what a trainee in this area can expect to get their teeth into! This will be the first in a series of seat summaries, giving you a feel for the work involved in each seat.

I had been hoping for an opportunity to join this department, as for me, being a lawyer is largely about having client contact. I like to be around people and having worked as a paralegal in residential property, a private client arena, before starting my training contract, I find delivering a high level of personal service to clients very rewarding. I had a feeling the private client seat would give me plenty of face-to-face exposure with clients, and I wasn’t wrong!

Private client lawyers work with individuals and families, providing advice on a wide range of topics such as estate structuring, taxation and trust administration. Michelmores has a floor dedicated to private client work, covering not only the traditional will writing and estate structuring, but also residential property, probate, contentious probate and family law. I am working with the tax, trusts and successions team, who often act for very high net-worth individuals with property and assets spread over a number of jurisdictions.

In my first 4 weeks I was invited to 10 client meetings. On the face of it, they were all quite similar – the clients usually want to review their wills and perhaps create a Lasting Power of Attorney – but of course, every situation is different and every meeting usually brings up unique challenges, often resulting in me sweating over a technical research note later that afternoon! I am regularly tasked with writing a concise attendance note after the meeting to record the instructions sought and the advice given, which for me is a handy test to establish my own understanding. I also have to ensure I have covered not only the issues discussed at the meeting, but also it is just as important to record issues such as whether the client was met alone and my view of the client’s capacity. I’ve had the Banks v Goodfellow test at the tip of my tongue for the last couple of months!

I also assist the team where we are appointed as attorneys under Lasting Power of Attorneys for clients who have lost their capacity. I keep the filing in order, draft communication and attend to the maintenance of the bank accounts. This is a useful task, not only for the client concerned, but for my personal understanding of the role of a personal attorney.

My helpful neighbour Richard Gerrard – it’s always good to sit next to an NQ as they are always happy to help you out!

I am in awe of the technical expertise of my team and their ability to comprehend such challenging issues, most especially the many tax and investment issues and cross-jurisdictional work. I am often given research notes to do where I sit down in despair, thinking ‘how can I possibly answer this, I don’t even understand the question!’, but surprise myself a few hours later when I find myself getting a handle on the vocabulary and the issues at play. Added to this technical knowledge, the solicitors here are extremely articulate in explaining complicated issues to their clients enabling them to quickly digest the information. I am watching and learning…

Both Andrew (the outgoing private client trainee) and my supervisor both wished me luck at the beginning of this seat, stating ‘It’s a steep learning curve’. It certainly is. I know more about taxation and investments than I thought possible but my knowledge is still at an entry level. I’ve realised that there are easier things in life than trust law. Tax rules are notoriously changeable and we are all rather excited about the forthcoming Royal Assent of the Finance Bill 2013. This seat has been a good challenge, and once the technical knowledge is under my belt, this is an area of law that offers real rewards.