Future Lawyer Blog

Planning on becoming a solicitor? Welcome to my world… Sally Wilkinson

Stimulating. Fulfilling. Demanding. If I had to sum up my career in just three words, those would be the words I would choose. A job where every day offers a different challenge, where I have to pull hidden nuggets of knowledge from the corners of my mind to find a solution but most of all, where I get the chance to help people.

Being a successful solicitor requires so much more than a solid working knowledge of the law; creativity, empathy, flexibility and commitment are all needed in equal parts. Don’t believe me? Have a sneak peek at my typical working day and you’ll see what I mean.

The early bird

Credit: tonysturn on Flickr

Credit: tonysturn on Flickr

Tollers Solicitors, who I work for, don’t officially open until 9am so there’s plenty of time to grab a coffee en-route. I prefer to get there early so I can plan my day properly before I start seeing clients; a shot of caffeine helps to wake me up!

I specialise in Wills, estate administration and tax planning so a large part of my day can be meeting with relatives who are recently bereaved.

My role might simply be to help them through a difficult time and administer the estate swiftly but it could also be to advise them about contesting a Will. My first appointment of the day is exactly that:

Mr A and Miss B arrive at 9.15am. They’re new clients and want an expert opinion about contesting a Will. They are distraught but I have to explain that there has to be a legal basis to mount a challenge, not simply because the Will seems unfair.

Once the appointment is over, it’s time to work through emails and messages. I’m not in court today this gives me an extra couple of hours in the office. This afternoon I have a home appointment to visit an existing client to discuss the best way to minimise their potential Inheritance Tax burden and then I’m back to the desk to prepare for a hearing tomorrow morning.

However, things don’t quite go as planned as a client drops in unexpectedly as she needs advice about a Potentially Exempt Transfer she wants to make.

In theory I leave at 5.30pm but if an emergency crops up outside hours, I’m on call for my clients. Law isn’t a 9-5 job and when a client has a problem, we need to respond and be available.

A juggling act

Credit thanks: Tollers

Credit thanks: Tollers

Tollers have strict Client Service Standards; I am responsible for making sure that I meet the criteria without fail. Most of these standards are common sense but Tollers also expect all telephone calls, messages and emails to be returned within four hours.

If I’m not with a client and some-one calls with a query, letting my voicemail pick up the message is unthinkable. Being available for clients when they ring as much as possible is an integral part of the company’s vision and values.

Getting started

I consider myself extremely lucky as I was successful in getting a work placement followed by a training contract with Tollers when I was still a student. This gave me the chance to join a large and prestigious law firm who would go on to support me through my professional development and help me to qualify.

I took my LPC before starting my training contract with Tollers and then went on to complete two years as a trainee in four different ‘seats’ within the firm. Despite being a newbie, I was handed my own caseload to manage almost straight away and given the chance to work under supervision. This helped to ensure my training contract was as close to the real thing as possible and made me realise very early on that this was something I wanted to pursue.

Training contracts are overseen by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and whilst they offer some flexibility, firms have a number of duties they must fulfil. This includes being given the chance to observe and where possible, practice, nine key skills. Trainees must also be given time off to attend the Professional Skills Course.

Although I joined the firm with some qualifications already in place, it’s also possible to get a training contract from other avenues too. Some of my colleagues started out as Paralegals and were able to use their experience to reduce the total amount of time needed on the training contract.

Tollers still offer training contracts; typically there are between two and six trainee solicitor positions on offer every year. If you’re interested in joining, don’t wait until the last minute to apply – it’s never too early to get in touch! You need to be thinking about applying at least 18 months before your training contract would start. And you can expect the places to be oversubscribed so there will be fierce competition from the start!

On-going development

Just because I am qualified with plenty of experience under my belt doesn’t mean I ever stop learning. After graduating as a full-blown solicitor, I followed a Competency Framework which provided a structured way for me to advance my career and reach where I am today.

The law doesn’t stand still and to be able to deliver innovative and up to the minute solutions to my clients, I need to be well connected. Attending industry seminars and conferences is integral to my role; I also am expected to participate in a Continuous Professional Development programme.

Tollers take community participation seriously, so supporting a charity from the area is extremely important. This year our charity is Northamptonshire TLC Trust which provides all kinds of practical and emotional help to families with children diagnosed with tumours, leukaemia and cancer. Last year, some of my colleagues in the Northampton office cycled from London to Paris for the 2012 charity so we all really get involved!

The reality

Whatever you choose to specialise in, don’t expect to be able to forget about the bits you didn’t enjoy so much. Law overlaps in so many ways it’s almost impossible to be able to just stick to the parts you enjoyed and ignore the rest. That means you need to stay up to date on pretty much everything!

Being dynamic, focussed and determined are all traits greatly prized almost beyond academic ability. Of course any solicitor needs to be able to think on their feet and absorb information quickly, but the ability to spot a solution when everyone else may have given up, the drive to be one step ahead are qualities which are simply priceless.

I’m Sally Wilkinson and I am a solicitor. And no matter how hard it is some days, I love it.

Thanks to Sally and Tollers Solicitors for this interesting piece.

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