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Legal insights & industry updates

| 4 minutes read

Life as a Fixed Seat Family Law Trainee Solicitor

Throughout the several months between finding out I was successful in securing a fixed seat traineeship and actually starting, I thought to myself at least once a day: “I wonder what it’s going to be like?”  Now I know, to a degree at least.

Working life as a Family Trainee, in my experience of only five months, has been an absolute whirlwind. 

I have learned more in the past five months than I am able to share.  Being in the office environment, working alongside solicitors (and I stress plural here as I feel I have undoubtedly benefited from the range of styles I have observed by working with multiple solicitors), attending court, reading real cases from start to finish and simply ‘being in the business’ are the aspects that are difficult to anticipate prior to realising them.  I now fully understand, and appreciate, the need for the PEAT2 section of the wider training to be a solicitor.  It is invaluable.

A typical day is impossible to summarise because there isn’t one. Every day is so very different and varied, which is a huge appeal to me. I imagine this experience is particularly relevant for a trainee in family law, as there is little ‘repeat business’ due to the very nature of the work. As a consequence, there are always new clients, new lives and new stories.  If you are interested in people, it is a fascinating place to be as each case is unique.  This means that the learning, both in relation to the law and the interplay of different personalities, is endless.

What type of tasks is a trainee solicitor in family law presented with? 

  • Drafting emails for solicitors – an unnerving task at first, this is one that definitely gets easier in time and the changes required become less.  There is nothing more satisfying than reading an email which has been sent to a client or court that has been issued in the exact form that you drafted.  It is important to not get disheartened when one of your emails is amended almost completely however, something that has happened to me on several occasions.  In fact, these are the most valuable ones, as it means that you are able to learn more and understand the dichotomy between the two versions.
  • Drafting court papers – this is one of my favourite tasks.  The structure and precision of such documents appeal to me and as a valuable add-on, drafting with feedback is a great way of learning some of the pitfalls of pro formas and the gravity of the consequences of making errors.
  • Contacting the various courts to check on the progress of a case – again, this comes with hidden bonuses.  After a short time of contacting the same court in relation to different cases, you not only gain an understanding of the operational nuances of the particular clerk’s office, but begin to develop the beginnings of working relationships with some of the staff there.  It perhaps goes without saying, but always be courteous to others in your professional capacity – you never know when you may need to call in a favour, for example, getting an Extract Deed dealt with as a matter of priority. 
  • Observing client meetings – this I would happily do all day, every day.  It lies at the core of the business practice – the real-life interactions with the people who keep us in jobs. I would encourage any trainee, family-related or otherwise, to have as much involvement with this aspect of the role as you possibly can.  We will all develop our own style of client engagement but there is a lot to be learnt from observing others in this area and there is absolutely no shame in ‘borrowing’ aspects of their practice into your own.  The more comfortable you feel dealing with clients, the more comfortable you will make them feel.  Do your homework, research the area of law the client meeting is applicable to beforehand, allowing you to be familiar with the legal concepts that may be raised at the meeting.  Observe client-solicitor behaviours and pay particular attention to how the solicitor deals with certain issues that may come up, for example, if the client gets upset (this can happen a lot in family law), how they maintain a good balance between professionalism and client care, and how they structure their meetings.
  • Spending time at court – this is an aspect of the training that may not be tailored into your timetable.  At my last review, I asked my manager if I could do more of this and they were very receptive.  Much like observing client meetings, first-hand experience of court proceedings helps you to ferment the knowledge gained whilst at university into real-life cases and teaches you a great deal in terms of court procedures.  In addition, you will meet a variety of solicitors specific to the field you are training in, thereby expanding your network.
  • Trying new things – I refer to this aspect of the traineeship as being relevant for any aspect of law.  As a trainee, you will, hopefully, be invited to take part in a range of opportunities throughout the two years.  I would fully encourage any trainee to lean towards saying yes to anything new – of course, this comes with the caveat that not every experience will be for every individual.  That aside, stepping outside your comfort zone provides some of the greatest scope of learning you will come across, in spite of the natural human tendency to step away from the initial discomfort of such a situation.  It is important for trainees to exhibit an element of enthusiasm and willingness to face new challenges to gain the most out of the training experience as a whole.

Of course, this list is by no means exhaustive.  There are so many other things involved within a family law traineeship - in-house training, team meetings, business development and a whole plethora of ‘bits and bobs’ that may not seem like much at the time, but are other pieces of the jigsaw which suddenly ‘fit together’ with something else you have encountered previously.

This role is still very new for me, but my colleagues at Harper Macleod made me feel part of the team from the very outset, something I am hugely grateful for.  Life as a trainee can be daunting, but it really helps if you are supported at the right level and encouraged along the way by others in your team.  I am excited about the next twenty months of the traineeship, the things I will learn, the opportunities I will encounter and the ultimate step of qualifying as a solicitor in an area of the law that I am passionate about.



graduate recruitment, family law