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The trainee’s perspective: My training contract in family law

by Kirsty Bone
23 November 2016

Kirsty Bone looks back over her training contract at Jefferies Essex LLP, working with Karen Dovaston, a member of the Family Section advisory group.

I did not obtain a training contract during my LPC, but I felt cautiously optimistic. Upon completion of the LPC, however, I found it difficult to get any kind of work, as I was too experienced and over-qualified. I began my legal career as an in-house property paralegal. This role provided me with invaluable experience before starting my training contact, and while my tenure wasn’t long, I learnt a lot about office life.

I was incredibly fortunate to be offered a training contract with Jefferies Essex LLP, which specialises in family law, conveyancing and litigation. In order to take up this position, I chose to leave my home and build a new life away from my family and friends in Norwich. It is always tricky to move, and it can be overwhelming when you are starting a new job, too! Luckily, I was immediately embraced by the whole firm and was quickly taken under the wing of Karen Dovaston, the deputy head of the family department.

Although some firms stick to rigid six-month periods of training in different seats, more and more firms are choosing to nurture their trainees in a single area of the law, not only to provide them with transferable skills and experience, but also grow their knowledge in a particular field. I have been working very happily in the family department of our firm since my training contract commenced in January 2015.

Initially, I worked in the divorce and financial part of the department, under Karen’s supervision. During this time, I gained invaluable experience not only through shadowing my supervisor and getting to work on client files, but also by learning the techniques that you are not specifically taught during your legal education, such as the importance of file management, organisation and prioritising tasks, as well as getting to grips with time-recording.

One of the aspects I love most about family law is the pace of it all. In theory, as a trainee, you could have your complete day organised with a full ‘to do’ list, but in reality, a new piece of information can be brought to light which could change the scope of your argument or your entire case completely. I noticed this more when I began supporting the head of department, Stella Young, and associate, Anne-Marie Rainsford, in our children work. In this type of work, it is not unusual for a new client to seek legal representation for a court hearing the next day, or for a case to suddenly go into proceedings.

Maintaining good communication with your client becomes even more important when the goal posts change. My firm is very supportive of us using our own advocacy skills, and I have been lucky enough to have assisted colleagues at court and taken judgments on their behalf. During my time at Jefferies, I have been exposed to both a varied case load and a range of clients. I have even been able to assist counsel at the Royal Courts of Justice. No two cases are alike, and although this can be challenging, I have found that this exposure has been integral to my continuing growth as a professional in the legal sector.

In developing my skills, I have been given the opportunity to take on my own clients (with supervision, of course!) and manage my own cases. This is a responsibility that I do not take for granted: I am very much aware that we deal with some of the most vulnerable individuals in society, at what must be the most difficult time of their lives.

As I am nearing the end of my training contract, I have found myself reflecting on what I’ve learnt, not only about my profession but also about my own abilities. Ultimately, my conclusion is that the benefits you get from a training contract reflect what you put into it. It is integral for any new trainee to feel as through they have the support of their colleagues. My advice to any new trainee is to work hard, keep focused, and remember that your superiors had to go through it all, too! 

About the author - Kirsty Bone

Kirsty Bone is a trainee solicitor at Jefferies Essex LLP, based in Southend.

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