(Missed part 1? Click here…)
Back in August last year, part 1 of this blog ended with me having just received the results of my professional examinations which to my surprise had confirmed that I had passed, and I was about to start my “articles” in the Black Country.
I started in November 1980, and I have to say at the outset that it was certainly not what I had been expecting! The notion that I wanted to practice law was swiftly dispelled, and during the course of the first few months, I had a variety of new experiences. The highlight was a week at the Royal Courts of Justice in London sitting behind Counsel on an interesting inheritance dispute where the widow and the mistress were fighting it out for the deceased’s monies. Low points were the endless sorting out of old files and clearing snow from the partners’ carpark. The reality was, and probably still is, that in the first few months of articles or training, he is not particularly useful to his employer other than to carry out menial tasks. It is all very well having an academic base, but it is putting it into practice that matters, and over the years I have learned that both experience and common sense are as important as legal knowledge.
Looking back, many aspects of training have changed, not least the desire of an employer to get good value from their trainees. Many firms these days take on prospective trainees for a period of time before a training contract is offered, so as to ensure that the trainee is both up to the job and indeed, he or she actually feels that being a solicitor is what they want to do. Therefore, for many trainees these days, they already know quite a lot about the job before they start, and their employer also has a good idea as to their competence. Back then, there was none of this initial experience, save perhaps for the odd week spent at a law firm during the summer holidays, and it was much more hit and miss, hence lots of menial tasks that were performed by trainees in the initial months. There was also a difference in the sort of work that a trainee would do. For example, back then, house purchases and sales were not completed electronically, but would often require the purchaser’s solicitor (i.e. the trainee) to visit the vendor’s solicitor clutching a banker’s draft, and almost ceremoniously transfer deeds would be exchanged and the deal done. Furthermore, it was much more common in those days for a solicitor to send a representative to sit behind Counsel whenever Counsel was instructed either in criminal, civil or family matters. These days the client and the Legal Aid Agency are rarely willing to pay for such a luxury, but back then it was normal, and was a very good way for the trainee to gain experience both as to how the Courts operated, but also in the art of negotiation and advocacy.
As my articles/training contract progressed, then my employers became more confident about letting me loose both on clients and on matters, although obviously my work would remain supervised. Then, as today, there is perhaps no better way for a trainee to learn than to actually do the job, albeit under the watchful eye of a more experience fee-earner, and I was lucky enough to have a good employer who ensured that I received all the help I required. Training contracts/articles were for two years, and during that time you were required to gain experience in various areas of law. I was fortunate enough to be working for a comparatively large firm, who dealt with many areas of law, and this therefore gave me the opportunity to sample the delights of wills and probate, conveyancing, family and children law, crime and civil litigation. I was only allowed to dabble in commercial work, due to the importance both of the work and the clients. When I entered articles, my intention was to become a commercial lawyer, like many young lawyers even today. My father had worked in industry, and while at university I had worked for a large industrial company during the summer vacation. However, my articles made me realise that this was not in fact the direction in which I wanted to go, and I was drawn to what I felt was the much more interesting area of crime and also of family law. It was in those areas that I probably spent the majority of my articles, and looking back now nearly 40 years, I am extremely grateful for the help and support that I was given by my more senior colleagues. I certainly appreciate now the need to support my more junior colleagues here at Greens, and both myself and the other seniors are always willing to provide advice, help and guidance both to the trainees and to the recently qualified.
The two years passed quickly and, in the autumn of 1982, my articles came to an end. I was lucky enough to be offered a position in the “common law department”, which was a somewhat old fashioned name for the department that dealt with crime, family law and civil litigation. Back in those days, there was a gap between finishing your articles and being admitted as a solicitor and my situation was all the more unusual as I required an operation on a shoulder injury incurred while playing hockey! I therefore had a few weeks off to recuperate but then in December 1982 I was admitted to the realms as a solicitor, and there I have remained ever since! The joys and responsibilities of being a newly qualified solicitor awaited, and a new chapter began. That is however for another day……
To be continued.