Hayley studied her undergraduate law degree at the University of East Anglia, and went on to achieve a distinction on the Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School in Holborn.
In between her studies, Hayley worked as a paralegal for Shoosmiths Solicitors and Martineau Solicitors, and also worked in Human Resources roles with the Northamptonshire Police and Northamptonshire County Council. Prior to her training contract, Hayley took a year out to work in Australia for the Victorian Government Solicitors’ Office, and travel around Asia before returning to Cambridge.
What attracted you to study law? Had you worked in a legal environment prior to studying law?
I always enjoyed a challenge, and I saw a career in law as a profession that throws new issues at you each and every day. With the wide variety of legal problems that companies and individuals face on a daily basis, I knew I would not be bored and that every day would be different. I also really liked the idea of being in a position to help people with their problems and advise them on what to do.
Did you always want to pursue a career as a solicitor?
At the age of eight I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in law after talking with my friend’s father who was a barrister. I was inspired by him, and the stories he told me, and became intrigued by the profession.
What was your experience of university and studying on the LPC?
I chose to study my law degree at the University of East Anglia, graduating in 2006. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed studying intellectual property and commercial law and took the time to get involved with the University through being part of the swimming team and part of the Union Council. If I am honest, I found that my law degree was too theoretical so I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I had hoped to.
I then went on to study on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at BPP in Holborn, and found it to be completely different to my degree. Although it involved a more intense workload, it felt as though I was learning how to practically apply my knowledge to everyday situations and issues.
Applying for training contracts
When did you first begin making applications for training contracts?
As I was ill during my final year of my degree, I didn’t start applying for training contracts until I had nearly finished studying on the LPC.
What advice were you given about filling in application forms? Did it work?
The advice I received from some solicitors that I had worked with was to make sure my applications were targeted. I was advised against sending out hundreds of applications to a wide spectrum of firms, and instead encouraged to investigate what sort of firm I wanted to train with and be part of (somewhere I could see myself working).
What made you target the firm where you eventually secured your training contract?
Taylor Vinters really stood out for me because it seemed a friendly firm, with a wide variety of practice areas and a strong focus on their direction in the future. Also, their ‘six-seat’ approach made me feel I would gain a wider variety of experience, providing the opportunity to work within six different sectors of law; so I applied, completing their handwritten application form. I did receive a couple of rejection letters from other firms that I had applied to prior to getting the interview at Taylor Vinters, but I was just happy to have been selected for that interview.
How did you make your application stand out?
I achieved a high distinction on my LPC and had a large amount of work experience at other East Anglian-based firms, which I feel helped set me aside from others to get to the interview stage. I had also participated in a number of swimming competitions, and obtained various national and international swimming achievements, which portrayed the desirable elements of character that they were looking for in a trainee.
I think it is important to make sure you stand out when it comes to applying for training contracts. On paper, not only do you have to show strong academic results, but also that there is something more to you. I have always engaged in extra-curricular activities in school and throughout university, as have all my fellow trainees. I feel this shows a more rounded individual and provides you with a wider range of skills and life experiences that will be of benefit throughout your career.
Admittedly I made fewer applications than many of my fellow students, but in the end I did secure my training contract at a firm that I really liked.
How did you prepare in advance for your interviews?
Taylor Vinters was the first and only interview for a training contract that I went to. Prior to my application and the interview, I had researched the firm in detail, so I re-read my research and practised answers to questions I thought they might ask. The interview was very relaxed and they had seen my CV, so it seemed to be more about getting to know me and seeing whether I would fit in with the firm, rather than grilling my pre-rehearsed responses to generic interview questions.
What else did you discuss in the interview?
The interview also explored my interests, whilst assessing my confidence in interacting and communicating with new people. I found that the skills and experiences I had from my work experience and extra-curricular activities really helped in portraying my confidence, my interpersonal skills and my ability to communicate. In a firm of this size, it is important that you are able to interact with your colleagues and clients; it doesn’t matter how book-smart you are if you can’t instil confidence when talking to your clients.
Initially, I was very nervous about the interview, since it was the first training contract interview I had had, and I didn’t really know what to expect. The relaxed nature of the interview quickly put me at ease, but I have always been rather pessimistic about these things, and still came out of the interview thinking about how I could have worded things differently. I was like this with every exam I sat too!
Taylor Vinters is quite a large law firm and they take on a number of students for training contracts each year – did you receive a good level of support from other trainees and lawyers in your offices during your training contract?
For the two years prior to commencing our training contracts, the other trainees and I were invited to the firm’s social events where we were able to meet other lawyers, partners and staff before we started. Their recruitment process was clearly aimed at selecting a group of trainees that would work well together and support each other.
What did you do in the gap between your LPC studies and commencing your training contract?
During the two years before I began my training contract, I made the most of my time and I took the opportunity to move and work in Melbourne before travelling for a few months around Australia and South East Asia. Whilst in Melbourne, I worked with the Victorian Government Solicitors’ Office as a paralegal on the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, which gave me valuable practical experience in a litigation environment. I found this experience really useful in bridging the student lifestyle with working lifestyle, increasing my knowledge and preparing myself for the two years of hard work ahead of me. I also took this opportunity to do activities, like bungee jumping, skydiving, white-water rafting and diving on the Great Barrier Reef.
How have you found your training contract so far? What should students expect? Is it a difficult adjustment from university?
I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my training contract. I have been given a lot of responsibility, assisted with integral work for our clients and had a lot of client contact, so it has been much more than just photocopying. Work life in general is very different to university, but I think a training contract is no different to any other job; you get out of it what you put in.
What have been the highlights and lowlights of your two years of training?
There have been many highlights and lowlights of my training contract but none that have put me off my career! The highlights have included working with some really great people, feeling supported and part of the team, doing my own advocacy at hearings (and winning), being offered both the NQ jobs I applied for, getting involved in a wide range of work for a variety of clients, and being given the opportunity to spend two and a half months working in our Singapore office. There haven’t been many lowlights in my two years of training, although I did find that initially when you move between different areas of law within the firm this can be somewhat overwhelming, as it felt you were starting all over again. Moreover, I remember volunteering myself to stay until the early hours of the morning to help another trainee and a solicitor prepare a trial bundle on a case for another department, and walking away hours later feeling a little underappreciated!
The bottom line is that you are part of a team; there is always someone willing to step in or stay late to help you or another trainee in your hour of need.
It’s clear that hard work throughout your training contract pays off and I am reaping the benefits of my hard work now, as I move into the last seat of my training.
You are currently working in Taylor Vinters’ Singapore office – how was that arranged?
Our offices in Cambridge, London and Singapore have always worked closely together, feeding work through to each other for support. A few months ago, I assisted one of the partners in Singapore remotely from our Cambridge office with a large project he was working on. It was a good experience, but conference calls were difficult due to the time difference. My firm decided that the Singapore team would benefit from having some support locally, and I was asked if I was interested; I jumped at this opportunity! In line with their supportive approach to my training contract, the CEO was out there with me for my first week, so he was able to show me around and help me get settled in.
What kind of work will you be doing in Singapore and what experience do you hope to gain from working there?
My work here in Singapore will involve a large variety of commercial, technology and corporate work (similar work to what I was undertaking in Cambridge) for clients based in Singapore, Asia and worldwide. For example, I expect to be drafting and reviewing contracts, and assisting with work connected to various mergers and acquisitions.
You are moving into the final stage of your training now – how do you feel about no longer being a trainee? Are you excited, nervous, anxious?
Having been in the department I am qualifying into for the last two seats of my training contract, I don’t feel like anything will really change once I have finished my training; although I am very excited about finally being able to say I am a solicitor (and the customary celebratory drinks!). With respect to my career and my future in law, I would like to continue working within the commercial and technology sectors of law, as I enjoy the challenges that this sector gives me and the kinds of projects and clients that I work with.
What is your long-term career goal/plan?
In the long term, I see myself aiming for a position as an equity partner, and then maybe I will look at going in-house, as I feel the variety of work will be interesting and working in-house for a company can bring further challenges.
If you undertook the process again, is there anything that you would do differently?
I don’t have any regrets about my chosen studies or pursuing a career in law, as I am fortunate enough to say that now I am one of the lucky ones; I have realised my dream job and I really do love it! Thinking back on it, the only thing I wish I had done differently would have been to secure my training contract whilst I was studying my undergraduate degree, before beginning the LPC, so I wouldn’t have had to take a couple of years out. I do, however, feel that I gained a lot of valuable experience during those years out, and I am really happy where I am right now, so actually, I probably wouldn’t change a thing!
What advice would you offer students who are looking for a training contract at the moment? What can they do to increase their chances of success?
In terms of offering advice for other students studying or pursuing a career in law, I would say that you must be sure you know what you want from your training contract; there is a lot of variety between firms. Try to get as much work experience as possible (not just in law firms, but also connected professions and companies) as this will not only help you decide on the type of firm you want to work for and the sectors of law that are of interest to you, but it will also make you stand out as a candidate for interview. Make sure your CV and application shows that there is more to you than just a strong education. Finally, don’t get disheartened; if you were not successful this time, it probably wasn’t right for you – but somewhere else will be!