Secret Diaries: a solicitor (2 years PQE)
I always knew that I wanted to work in the type of law I qualified into – I have experienced the chaos and inconsistency that a lot of my clients find themselves in and have always wanted to work in a full-on, emotive environment.
Being a qualified solicitor in Cardiff, immediately said to me that I would live the ‘city lawyer’ life that my teenage self had so desperately wanted to attain. The morning Starbucks, the runs to Pret a Manger for a late lunch, the erratic trains back and forth to Court, and getting to wear heels with emergency trainers in my handbag. This definitely felt like the dream. However, there are many different forms of work that take up my day, and where it's not all glitz and glamour (feeling like some legal 'Sex and the City' spin off), there are some extremely rewarding stories that do come out of the woodwork.
My general day consists of jumping straight into my emails. I make sure that the evening before, my diary is reviewed for the following day, so no surprises come my way and I can
get ready to prepare if I have extra early meetings. Generally, my meetings take place on Zoom but we do offer in persons or telephone calls - clients are slowly starting to understand the benefit of meeting your lawyer without the costs of travel from the comfort of their own sofa, and I fully believe that this change in work dynamic has improved my ability to manage my time.
My day tends to be outlined by meetings with clients or prospective clients, and preparation work in between the gaps. With a new client, we generally would jump on five minutes prior to receive a summary of what they seek. Some clients require urgent work, some just want to contemplate their options, and some simply need a friendly face to unwind. Because of this, my day can be filled with ups and downs, stressful last-minute work and rearranged diaries, or fairly calm advice letters.
In the middle of these meetings, there are a wide range of tasks that we can get up to. What takes priority as a solicitor with conduct of your own files, is any preparation dictated by Court deadlines. Where there is a deadline and there is no likelihood of delay (either due to your own client or third parties), the onus falls upon you to ensure that your client is well briefed and able to approve or amend any of the papers in good time. Generally, I will start to look at Court deadlines seven days ahead, so there is more than enough time for my clients to discuss any questions they have before documents are served. Examples of this can include bundles (papers relating to the file, for a Judge/Lay Bench to review) and briefs (description of the case and your client's instructions as sent to a barrister). However, there are many other ancillary papers that can branch off your cases depending what they relate to. Sometimes when I'm lucky, we may simply have a Hearing that requires confirmation of my client's updating position. This could also be a case where twenty deadlines need to be met for filing and serving responses, statements, questionnaires etc, before we see the inside of the Court again.
Occasionally, I will assist clients by way of advocacy in the Courtroom. This tends to be for matters that are relatively simple, or matters that I am more than competent in dealing with at a time where clients do not have funds for Counsel or feel that a familiar face would ease them. These are the days for the briefcases, notebooks and pens, copious bundles and heels that I envisaged. Whilst incredibly rewarding and a good opportunity to get some fresh air in what would usually be a desk job, I certainly picked up on some helpful tips to survive these days (i.e. finding heels that I can stand up in for eight hours without limping, and ensuring that my bag does not contain any make up when I'm searched in the Court, for fear of having my foundation confiscated for the 90th time this year).
When I am not riddled with Court paperwork, other preparations can include letters to clients who benefit from a written summary of our meeting, or preparation of applications to take their matter to Court. I can complete mediation referrals if I do not think that my client would currently benefit from a lawyer or formal litigation, and I can consider offers of settlement whilst buried deep in the trenches of financial paperwork.
Through the day, I am assisted by my paralegal who is a massive help to all files and ensures that I do not have the pressure of being an immediate point of contact for any client who rings the office. This separation gap means that I can assess what is urgent at any given minute, and to ensure that the most important work is completed before I stop to advise on general and non-specific matters. This also means that when there are significant amounts of Court work (this comes in peaks and troughs - I could have one Hearing in one month, and then fifteen in the next), my paralegal and I are able to chat through what each case requires, and delegate them according to the time in the diary and our experience in relation to complex matters.
My role is very client-facing, but very dynamic in respect of what services we can offer. Whether I am working from home or sat at my desk, we are generally facing copious amounts of coffee and a lack of structure (in a good way). No day is the same, and I will never have a back to back day of relaying the same advice and sending a person on their way. The most important part to me of being a solicitor is being dynamic in your approaches to the client (some would much rather you have a natter and slip your legal advice in, than feel inundated with legal jargon that they do not understand), and managing your time. Every client wants to be the first in the door, so taking responsibility for your own office hours and managing your own boundaries is key. Ultimately, you will know best which order of events will assist the firm and your clients the most.
At least I get to come home and remember that I qualified in the end - my eighteen year old would be proud!