I studied Law & Accounting at Queen's University Belfast from 2006 – 2010. During my time at university I completed vacation schemes in both law and accountancy firms, which helped me to make up my mind that it was a legal career I was more interested in. I was still attracted to working on corporate and financial transactions so I knew I would enjoy working for a commercial law firm.
The process to become a qualified lawyer in Northern Ireland is a bit different to other jurisdictions. I sat the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS) entrance exam in December 2009 and was offered a place, conditional upon obtaining a training contract. I applied to Pinsent Masons (McGrigors as it was then) because I wanted to train with a firm that really invested in its trainees, and which had an excellent reputation in the Northern Irish market. I then commenced my training contract in September 2010. Unlike the rest of the UK the route to qualification incorporates studying at the IPLS part-time alongside time in the office, and takes about a year to complete.
My time in the Belfast office has been very varied and has thrown up a number of challenges along the way. Having the support network of other trainees and more junior solicitors to ask questions has been a real help and the weekly seminars with senior members of each department, which focus on their area of expertise, has really helped me develop my technical ability. It also seems to be a quite unique approach in the Northern Irish market. The Belfast office also has a strong social side to it and I have been able to join the tag rugby team and participate in a number of CR events with groups in the local community.
You might think it would be challenging to be based in Belfast when the majority of the firm's lawyers are across the Irish Sea in England and Scotland but it often gives us an edge over the local competition. As trainees we have a strong network of contacts; we meet one another at a residential programme early into our training contract, so you quickly get to know people from across the office network. This can be really handy when you need to draw on the knowledge of colleagues with expertise in English or Scottish law for clients with business interests outside of Northern Ireland.
I thought I would sign off by sharing with you the highlight of my training contract thus far, which funnily enough has also been my greatest challenge. Working on a completion for a client I found it incredibly challenging keeping on top of the sheer volume of documentation coming through every single day - it certainly taught me why communication with other members of the team and the client is essential to a successful transaction! The hours were arduous at times but ultimately I found the experience extremely rewarding because every member of the team was there together during the late nights and there was a great buzz from the success we achieved when the deal was finally closed. This was my first experience of being involved in such a large transaction and it will no doubt not be my last, I wouldn't want it any other way!