What is it like to start your career as a trainee solicitor in the public sector? Amy Mills explains.
I am currently three months into my training contract in local government, which I am immensely enjoying and I am looking forward to the challenges that the new year will bring. After what seemed like a mammoth training contract tour of the county, I am pleased to be training at Tandridge District Council in Surrey which forms part of the two tier local government structure in the county. The areas of law that my training contract encompasses are wide ranging due to the array of services that the district council provides.
Unlike a traditional training contract, my two years are not structured in a seat format. This flexibility mirrors the offering in small firms and allows me to be involved in diverse matters as and when they arise, providing for a constantly engaging training experience. My training has commenced with a predominantly housing-based focus, reflecting the challenges of an authority that has retained its housing stock.
I have been managing the possession portfolio, which comprises of approximately 100 live cases in relation to non-payment of rent and anti-social behaviour. Balanced with my housing obligations, I have also dealt in more complex debt recovery matters due to my prior litigation experience gained at the London Borough of Southwark. Furthermore, I have been introduced to the exciting world of prosecutions as well as making a start on contractual and planning matters, which I believe to be essential to a rounded training.
Within these areas of law, I have been exposed to specific themes, which have been at the forefront of the changing law. Cornerstone Barristers described 2014 as being the year of anti-social behaviour at their recent Annual Housing Conference due to the implementation of new legislation giving authorities new powers to deal with these social problems. During my time at Tandridge, I have been involved in obtaining anti-social behaviour injunctions against individuals and preparing committal proceedings for breach.
I have found the local government environment an ideal arena in which to train. The legal department at Tandridge has eleven members, including another trainee solicitor and a work experience student, which demonstrates the authority’s commitment to nurturing the young workforce. The benefit of a small team is that experienced solicitors are always approachable and seem to have more time to assist with queries than their private practice counterparts. I am also afforded the opportunity to liaise with senior staff and councilors; my manager is the assistant chief executive and I am always encouraged to attend various committees, which I think provides invaluable experience as to the decision-making processes in local government.
Evaluating my experience to date, I believe that a public sector training equips trainees with all the tools required to qualify and progress as a solicitor whether in local government, in-house or in private practice. Where the public sector particularly prevails is the ability to be involved in judicial review proceedings, which the private sector is unlikely to provide the same wealth of experience. Similarly to the in-house model, local government trainees are afforded more responsibility accompanied with more guidance.
For those wishing to continue in local government, the environment allows trainees to understand and be involved in the political mechanisms pertaining to local authorities. Like other organisations, Tandridge is Lexcel accredited which ensures trainees develop best practice in complying with the quality standard and transferable skills in case management and risk minimisation. Without the pressure of time recording due to departmental arrangements governing billing, fee earners are more focused on delivering a service in the best interests of their clients.
Whilst I have ultimately enjoyed my training experience, it is important to highlight a few cultural differences with the private sector. Naturally a small council may be quieter than a larger firm, which allows trainees to fully research areas of law with which they may be unfamiliar and essentially be proactive with the particular direction they wish their training to proceed. In my experience, there also tend to be fewer networking opportunities in local government, however as councils are continuing to embrace the concept of partnership working, this is sure to change.
Looking forward, I anticipate that 2015 will be a year full of hard work and reward at Tandridge. This month I will be attending a procurement masterclass to familiarise myself with the requirements of the new legislation governing tendering processes. In February, I will be representing the council at the Young Local Authority of the Year. This initiative was set up for young employees in local government to hone their skills in presentational persuasiveness. By the end of the year, I also hope to complete my core modules of the professional skills course for in-house trainees.
In conclusion, my experience as a trainee in local government has been fruitful, dynamic and an on-going quest to further my legal knowledge and associated best practice. I have most enjoyed the ability to throw myself into areas where I have prior experience, such as advocacy, as well as learning new areas of law. I believe that a public sector training particularly teaches flexibility and client management which I hope to build on in my remaining 21 months.
Local Government Lawyer regularly advertises training contracts with local authorities. For instance, Buckinghamshire County Council – named Team of the Year in the inaugural Lawyers in Local Government Awards – is currently hiring a trainee solicitor. Find out more about this fantastic opportunity.