I am a trainee solicitor at Hanne & Co, a full-service law firm based in Clapham, London. I recently met with law students who were intrigued to learn about my career choice, having little idea of options outside of the Square Mile. This has encouraged me to share my experience with other candidates, to help ensure that they recognise the benefits of training at a law firm beyond the City.
Prior to embarking on my legal journey, I read history at University College London. I enjoyed the arts, yet always held an underlying interest in law as a profession. While studying I attended numerous talks, interactive workshops and career fairs, finding that most were tailored towards a City career. Due to their sizeable marketing budgets, it is no coincidence that large, corporate firms dominate most university recruitment events, despite there being over 10,000 law firms in England and Wales. My career choice came through much trial and error, exploration and informed research. I was interested in various different areas of law, but it was not until clerking at a firm specialising in family law that I came to realise what type of legal career I really wanted. What I came to understand was that, in contrast to matters focused on large corporate transactions, I wanted to help deliver access to justice by way of translating the black-letter law to lay clients and help them to overcome life’s obstacles.
Hanne & Co boasts a leading family practice, which is what first drew me to the firm. In my research I was most struck by its long-standing history and pedigree, at a time when both new entrants and law firm collapse were common trends in the legal press. I was drawn by the fact that the firm has operated for over 100 years, yet also modernised and adapted to the changing legal market. What I sought was a training contract that would allow exposure to diverse areas of law and Hanne & Co’s practice satisfied this, as trainees can gain exposure to broad areas ranging from family and children to business and property law. I also sought a role which would allow high levels of partner contact and first-hand exposure to complex work. The firm’s reported cases and prominent accolades assured me that I would have the opportunity to learn from skilled lawyers.
Having started my training contract, my expectations have been met. Family law is a very interesting area, involving both litigious work and non-contentious negotiation such as drafting prenuptial agreements. As a trainee in the family team, my role is stimulating and no two days are the same. I am gaining exposure to matters relating to divorce, finances, domestic violence, children proceedings and the niche area of child abduction. My duties span from taking new enquiries to attending court, drafting letters and documents and conducting my own client conferences. In my first month as a trainee my responsibilities included negotiating undertakings through overseas lawyers and dealing with national newspapers during the course of high-profile court cases. I enjoy the confidence which supervisors at Hanne & Co place in their trainees, nurturing us in preparation for practice after qualification. Opportunities here are numerous, including trainees being entrusted with the running of their own files, having the opportunity to see cases through from start to finish and taking part in advocacy. I recently successfully completed an ex-parte injunction application in the county court. I felt extremely anxious about speaking in front of a judge, but my colleagues were encouraging and it was rewarding to see the sense of relief in our client when the judge granted our application.
I have found that the most enriching aspect to training at this type of firm is the lack of restriction to narrow areas of law, but rather widespread exposure to broad matters. General practice firms tend to be instructed by both business and lay clients, allowing a considerable array of matters and the chance to gain skills in adaptability. Rather than being ‘spoon fed’, the emphasis is for trainees to be proactive in order to help progress matters, working in partnership with their supervisors. This ethos amounts to high levels of responsibility and pressure is an inevitable by-product. However, in cases where clients are in desperate need for help there is no greater reward than taking initiative and being able to make a tangible difference. Ultimately, diverse caseloads and great responsibility cultivate confident and capable solicitors. In my experience, high levels of responsibility make me feel that I am learning every day and I am able to observe my own development as I come to understand more about legal procedures and client care.
Firms such as Hanne & Co can also offer a healthy work-life balance. Alongside working for our clients, we are immersed in the community by way of supporting local charities, and hosting events and seminars for local businesses. Other trainees and I recently attended a Careers Fair at a local school, where we were able to share our experiences to help guide young students. Relationship building with clients, colleagues and the local community is valued and the firm’s culture is open and friendly.
In the overcrowded legal market a successful career depends on more than purely technical skills and smaller firms afford trainees the opportunity to develop these additional competencies early on. Trainees can gain exposure to marketing, billing and accounts, and wider practice management techniques, allowing them to develop business acumen in addition to legal expertise. Having worked at a public relations company during my LPC, I pursued firms who would welcome my skills and allow me to use them to contribute to business development. I am delighted to have become a member of the Marketing Committee, conducive to my aspirations. Traditionally Hanne & Co has been renowned for its family expertise, but is currently developing its commercial and business practices. It is exciting to be part of a growing firm with a forward-looking direction, due to innovative future prospects.
Inevitably, every law firm is different and the levels of responsibility and culture will vary from firm to firm. Nonetheless, what I seek to share with applicants is the exceptionally unique and gratifying experience which training at a firm like this can offer. I urge applicants to thoroughly research and explore all possible avenues before pursuing a legal career. If high levels of client contact, exposure to diverse areas of law and wider marketing opportunities are what you seek from your training contract, training at a law firm beyond the City may be a fitting option for you.
By Sej Lamba, a first-year trainee solicitor at Hanne & Co