In this article, Stephanie Anais interviews Helen Broadbridge, trainee solicitor at Macfarlanes and author of Forgetting May.
Helen provides insight into the responsibilities of a trainee solicitor at Macfarlanes and reveals why she chose to specialise in Tax, whilst providing her opinion on who makes a good tax solicitor. Helen also reveals the system which improves her commercial awareness and provides her top tips for writing legal blogs.
Helen also shares her method of writing an effective TC application – a must read for anyone currently making applications!
What were the reasons that you decided to qualify into the Tax and Reward group?
Tax was my favourite seat during my training contract. Tax is great for analytical minds as the legislation is a big puzzle to figure out and then explain in a way that is easy to understand. At Macfarlanes, the department covers an array of practice areas, so as well as the corporate work you might expect; there are many other interesting fields like investment management, remuneration or VAT.
What are a trainee’s responsibilities at Macfarlanes?
Departments like litigation or corporate have ‘classic’ trainee tasks, such as bundling or signings. In tax, there aren’t these ‘classics’ as such, so instead you tend to get the first cut of something before handing over to someone more senior. Typical tasks include legal research or drafting bespoke documents like notes of advice, structure papers or steps plans.
What are you expecting a day in the life of a Tax and Reward solicitor to look like?
I think it will be similar to being a trainee, but with more responsibility. For example, I expect I will be researching the whole problem rather than one aspect, trying more complex pieces of drafting or reviewing longer documents in more detail.
As I’m qualifying in September, I’m looking forward to seeing how cultural attitudes to remote working develop once government restrictions have been lifted. I hope that we see a model where time spent in the office is seen as just one part of the time we spend working, rather than the only time we spend working.
You frequently write legal blogs on tax which are published on Macfarlanes’ website and LinkedIn. You have also recently written about the consequences of Covid-19 on different aspects of the economy. How do you find the time to keep up with current affairs and stay commercially aware?
I have a system to make my life easier: I receive news alerts in my inbox on Monday mornings. I then look at around 30 headlines and scan around 5 articles. If I would like to follow up on one, I save it for later. Sometimes I’ll write them up one at a time, but I prefer to do it in batches. I keep a document that has a pipeline of content, so I am never making it up from scratch when I decide to share something.
What are your top tips for student lawyers who are interested in writing legal blogs?
First, find what interests you. If you are not genuinely interested, the habit will never stick. Then, start small and build up gradually. I started by posting content that I found interesting on LinkedIn. It was as simple as picking out key parts from an article and writing a sentence to say why I found them interesting. It allowed me to get comfortable with my voice in a public space. Gradually, you make connections between the things you’ve read and your commentary grows into a blog or article.
What inspired you to write ‘Forgetting May’?
This is a completely different writing project. I wrote a novel about the experience of caring for someone with dementia. It is based on observing my Dad as he supported his Mum for many years while she suffered with the condition.
I highly recommend the experience of (1) distilling your thoughts on something into a book, and (2) thinking about your book and your brand as a commercial proposition. Both are great sources of personal development wherever you are in your career.
Your article, ‘Confidence: How confident is Goldilocks?’ is very interesting and I loved your candid approach. In your opinion, what can be done to bring gender equality into the legal profession?
Where to begin? Writing about gender and career progression often focuses on what women can do to improve their chances of success. Lean In is the classic example. Self-help is great for giving practical advice, but, as a genre, it inadvertently places the burden of responsibility for women’s lack of progress on women’s shoulders.
By contrast, a lot of research goes into what organisations can do to help women progress from workers to leaders on a policy level. This organisational aspect has remained more in the academic sphere because it is not as commoditised as self-help. As a result, people are less familiar with the idea that organisations can help women progress, rather than progression being the individual’s responsibility alone.
This is an area I will be writing about in my new role as a contributing writer at Legal Women magazine, so watch this space.
How has your Languages and Management degree helped shape your career as a solicitor?
The great advantage of languages is that they keep you open-minded. It is important to remember that London and the English language are not at the centre of the universe. Languages are also great for building relationships. If I’m in touch with a colleague, client or fellow adviser who I know speaks French or Russian, I’ll let them know that it’s something that we share. My interest in organisational behaviour and policy stems directly from my time at business school.
I hope this goes to show that you don’t need a law degree to become a solicitor.
Can you describe the moment you decided to become a solicitor?
I had my first taste of commercial law during Sixth Form on a work experience week. I was then open-minded career-wise for a few years, until I worked at a large firm in Moscow during my languages degree. It was a great experience and I decided then to apply for vacation schemes when I got back to the UK.
What was your TC application journey like? What are your three top tips for TC application writing?
As it is important for us all to acknowledge – behind every acceptance lies a pile of rejections. During the final year of my languages degree, I attended two vacation schemes but did not receive a training contract offer. During business school, I applied directly for training contracts and received an offer from Macfarlanes. The vast majority of my trainee intake had at least a year of further education or work experience before receiving an offer.
My three top tips would be:
What has been your biggest life lesson as a trainee solicitor? How has it affected your future?
Relationships are more important to your career than billing that extra hour. Good relationships are the difference between hating a job and turning over in 1-3 years and loving a job and staying for a decade. Yes, do your job well, but don’t think it is the only thing you’re there to do. Find people who influence you positively and keep them around you.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
As well as languages and writing, I love athletics. I compete locally as a hammer and discus thrower, and weightlifting is a big part of my training.
I hope that lots of people have been using their saved commute time during lockdown on something other than work. Whatever our passions are, they are great for mental health (which increases longevity in your role) and developing new skills (which prepares you for career progression). I therefore hope that people feel empowered to have conversations with their supervisors about formally spending a small amount of time each week on these really important things.
Any last words of wisdom?
Be deliberate about your habits because they can have a powerful effect on your life – both positive and negative. For example, it is necessary to work late sometimes if it is for a specific, time-limited goal. But if you find yourself working late without a good reason, be careful – it will become a habit before you know it. (A bit like skipping your run for just one week, or allowing yourself just one more cup of coffee…) By contrast, a small amount of time deployed regularly over a long period can really add up. For example, when I finished my languages degree in 2014, I was worried that I would forget everything I had learned. So I started watching YouTube videos in French and Russian for a few minutes a day. I’m still doing it 6 years later and my spoken skills are better than ever. It’s encouraging to think that 15 minutes a day adds up to 90 hours a year, which is like taking 2 weeks off work to dedicate to something (an amount of time that you would never imagine having spare).
So be deliberate about your habits and make sure they are helping, not hindering, you long-term.
Article by Stephanie Anais