Hannah is a University of Aberdeen alumna and a fourth-seat Trainee Solicitor at Pinsent Masons. She has recently returned from a secondment in London where she worked at one Pinsent Masons’ clients – Heathrow Airport. We were very curious to hear more about her experience and tips for a successful training contract.
Overall, is your Training Contract everything you expected?
I joined the firm via the direct traineeship application route and have been here for 1.5 years. The transition from university life to workplace certainly wasn’t easy, and is not one I’d like to make again in a hurry. I distinctly remember having the shocking realisation about 3 weeks in that there was no going back and that I’d be doing this whole ‘work thing’ 5 days a week for (what felt like) the rest of my life. The shock of this realisation has definitely dimmed over time, but it does come back to haunt me now and again (normally at the end of annual leave…).
I have particularly enjoyed the variety of work that comes with being a trainee at a large international firm. I have had a chance to experience many different contentious matters, property work, planning, energy and environment work, a client secondment and now TMT and IP work.
Alongside this, another enjoyable aspect of the training contract has been the extra curricular and social side. We have a great social committee in Edinburgh and some excellent sociable trainees who are always willing to attend post work drinks on a Friday (or any other day of the week, if the need is apparent).
I have always loved airports, and I have always loved planes – I get a weird thrill from seeing them flying up close (I have been known to ask whoever is behind the wheel of the car on the M9 to slow down at a particular stretch of road to optimise chances of an airplane flying over us). It would therefore be hard to imagine that the UK’s only hub airport wouldn’t have been my first choice secondment.
When I found out I had been allocated the Heathrow secondment, I informed my family that they should expect a ‘daily planes’ update from me. It’s safe to say that they weren’t as thrilled at this prospect as I was.
Traditionally, Pinsent Masons’ trainees have been seconded to the commercial sub-team of the Heathrow legal team. Whilst there, I found myself working in areas that didn’t fall into the usual remit of sub-teams (corporate, property and operations) – this was a great opportunity for me to try my hand at a huge variety of work. For instance, during my time at Heathrow, I was involved in work on cyber security, with charities, sustainability, media, IT, concessions, services and competitions and promotions (amongst other things). It was a fantastic way to learn and meant that every day was different and exciting.
Yes, I had the opportunity to get involved in some of Heathrow’s fantastic CSR activities, including a reading scheme with a local primary school. I also spent a full day at a secondary school participating in a STEM coding challenge.
I was also on the social committee for the department which was a very fun way to get to know more people and plan ways of boosting team morale throughout the year, and not just at the summer and winter parties.
There are some really exciting secondments on offer across the firm. Pinsent Masons has a roster of very impressive clients, which is good news for those looking to go on a client secondment. These are open to all trainees in their penultimate or final seat and are largely not dependent on where your ‘home’ office is. For example, a fair number of secondments in London have historically been filled by Scottish or regional trainees.
My secondment taught me a lot about how to deal with unrealistic expectations and timescales. As a trainee, you’re conditioned to turn things around as quickly as you can as the instructions tend to come through on an urgent basis. In house, I had to learn that whilst there was some work that truly was urgent, a lot of it was business as usual and wasn’t such a high priority.
It’s ok to not be an expert.
I think that sometimes it’s easy to forget as a trainee that it’s ok to not know the answer to every question we get asked. It was even more crucial to bear this in mind on secondment as colleagues from other areas of the business frequently came to me with questions about any and all areas of law, expecting an answer on the spot. As it turns out, I’m not a walking encyclopaedia of all the laws (who knew), and so I had to learn a few stock ‘I’ll take that away and come back to you’ phrases. And that’s perfectly ok.
Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
It’s easy to get bogged down in detail as a lawyer, but at Heathrow, I’d look up from my desk and a 747 would be flying past the window and I’d be reminded why I was doing what I was doing. It helps to take a step back sometimes.
Honestly, going on secondment to Heathrow was one of the best personal and professional decisions I have ever made – so my advice would have been to make sure you choose a firm that will let you take these and other opportunities when they arise.
Just as the second lockdown struck, so approached application deadlines for vacation placements. So, here’s an overview of how I got to know Pinsent Masons virtually.
Read about Taylor's experience of our Virtual Vacation Scheme
Anne Sammon is an Employment & Reward Partner in London. Anne has significant experience in tribunal and high-court litigation in areas including discrimination, unfair dismissal and whistleblowing.