Project Millennial: what we learned this year

At the start of 2016, The Lawyer launched ‘Project Millennial’, taking five newly-qualified solicitors and vowing to follow them across the course of their careers. As the year comes to a close we caught up with three of them to find out what they’ve learned in their first year of their career as a fully-fledged solicitor.

Louisa Jacobs (commercial IP, Bristows)

Project Millennial (Louisa Jacobs)

My first year post qualification has flown by and I certainly learned a huge amount. On the personal development side of things, in common with most newly qualified solicitors, I did a lot more client-facing work and an increased amount of business development. More recently, I have started to help supervise the work of trainees on certain matters which is something I have really enjoyed.

There have also been many legal and technical points which I learned this year but I will highlight two overarching things which stand out.

The first is how our knowledge of the context and background to a deal really impacts on our work. The concept of ‘commercial awareness’ is drummed into all lawyers from the time we apply for training contracts and, on a macro level, understanding your client’s business, their commercial drivers and the market in which they operate in is undoubtedly very important. What I have really come to appreciate this year is how important this is on a micro level, on each deal we work on.

Working as part of the commercial IP team at Bristows, I have spent a lot of time assisting with the review, drafting and negotiation of IP licences and research collaboration agreements for clients in the pharmaceutical and technology sectors. Working on these sorts of deals, I have experienced how important it is to take time to understand the relevant technology and the scientific and business objectives of both parties to the deal.

It is not always obvious to a client how much the lawyers need to understand about these things and I have learned how important it is for us to ask the right questions and do enough research to get the information we need. The agreement we may draft knowing these facts can be very different to what we might draft in a vacuum.

The second thing that stands out when I look back at my first year is how important it is to be proactive in pushing deals forward. I have seen parties who are excited to work together initially who then lose motivation or even confidence in each other as too much time passes without coming to an agreement, which can result in deals losing momentum and sometimes not concluding.

As private practice lawyers we are used to working to tight timelines and, while we might turn documents around quickly, it can be very difficult (and not always possible) to have an impact on the overall pace and momentum of the deal. Delays occur for many reasons – priorities within organisations changing, the involvement of multiple parties and multiple individuals in each organisation, and often simply because parties do not have enough time or resource to devote to the deal in question.

Despite many factors being completely out of our control, I have learned how important it is to be very aware of the potential pitfalls of losing momentum and for us to work with clients wherever possible to help drive deals forward.

Zoe Pearse (private client, Seddons)

Project Millennial (Zoe Pearse)

A new qualification…
This year I began my STEP Diploma in Trust and Estates which is a specialist private client qualification. The first module I took was Administration of Estates and the main topics I covered were mental capacity, validity of Wills and the probate process. The module involved two learning workshops (each a day long) , a revision workshop and weeks of private study all culminating in a three hour exam last month.

I have found this challenging to fit in around my workload and have spent many evenings and weekends revising, but the knowledge I have gained from my studies has proved invaluable in my day to day role as a Private Client Solicitor.

My results are out just before Christmas so I am hoping for an early present in the form of a pass!

New law….
As part of my role as a Private Client Solicitor, one thing that clients always ask me is ways to mitigate inheritance tax after death. In April 2017, there is a new piece of legislation to be introduced by the government called the residence nil rate band. As is stands, an individual has a nil rate band of £325,000 (the amount up to which an estate has no inheritance tax to pay). This nil rate band increase will be carried out through the introduction of the residence nil rate band which initially sees an additional £100,000 added to the existing nil rate band, culminating in £175,000 being added by 2021, which could provide a married couple with up to £1 million nil rate band.

After a year full of uncertainty and doubt, it is great to be able to learn new laws which are positive for clients and can potentially save tax in the future – news which is always gratefully received!

Developing a skill.…
Throughout 2016, my firm has been running a series of internal workshops in order to educate the rest of the firm on what type of work each department does and from a marketing point of view to promote cross referrals across the firm.

I presented two one hour workshops with a Q&A session along with my colleague to raise awareness of current issues of private client law, new developments and topics within my practice area which may be of interest to our clients and contacts.

As someone who has never been confident at presenting and speaking to large numbers of people this made me focus on my communication and presentation skills which have improved as a result and are of benefit to me in my client facing role.

Leah Glover (banking, DWF)
So, I’ve not made partner yet (new year’s resolution for 2017?), but now I’m a few years qualified I have started running my own deals, which is great, but with great power comes great responsibility. I’ve been looking after the trainees and newly qualified lawyers in our team who have been helping me on the deals. Now I am on the other end of the trainee process, it is funny looking back at times when I was trying to impress as a trainee – it is not as hard as you think! Some of my top tips now I am on the other side are:

  • Get rid of your “hot potato” syndrome – some trainees will do work that is allocated to them then drop it immediately back on your desk (like a hot potato). What is more impressive is to see a trainee take their time over work, take responsibility for it, send it out, chase for comments, and when comments come back have an opinion as to whether they should be included in the document or not – it takes time and experience but the sooner you can get into the mindset of a qualified lawyer rather than a trainee the better.
  • Don’t be lazy – do a bit of research! Yes I know it is easier to ask your supervisor the question, especially if they sit right next to you, but honestly it is a LOT easier for us if you have done a bit of background reading and familiarised yourself with the law or process. We should just be guiding you in the right direction. Also there might be times when we are not here, so you have to get used to finding out the answer on your own!
  • Accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. Everyone knows it, everyone says it, make sure you do it. I always say to my trainees and NQs… have you double and triple checked the detail? I joke with them that if I spot a typo in my documents they have to put £50 in the typo jar. Nobody has made a typo yet!

My supervisors will probably read this and laugh at me as I’m still learning too and guilty of a few things mentioned above – I guess the goal is to always keep improving and be the best you can.

Have a great Christmas and New Year!

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