Diary of a Trainee solicitor
MONTH 1 – So what IS IT REALLY LIKE
10 May 2011
Imagine this :
A very plush office and a lovely smiling secretary typing furiously. Client’s neatly waiting in a waiting room with nice coffee and magazine to flick through. My desk, free from paper with a lovely paper weight, a bonsai tree and pictures of my lil eagles.
Case law neatly filed in my swing files in my desk just ready for me to refer to. The computer system pristine and holding all clients files ready and waiting for easy access.
Arriving at the office met with a list of calls to make and files to review the day starts at 9am and ends at 5pm sharp and I leave smiling and cheerful.
Years of legal study just bursting to spring into action.
W R O N G
LAW is NOT like this.
(Warning : If you are a law student with this idealistic view of life in practice then STOP READING NOW sign into s1 jobs and find yourself a different career)
So what IS IT REALLY LIKE ?
Glasgow, the Wonderful green city that it is, is apparently the ‘Murder Capital of Europe’ and in Glasgow the life of a criminal defence lawyer is one which is often overlooked , played down and seen by many (lawyers included) as being a somewhat second class legal career choice. As part of my preparations for life at ‘The Bar’ it is however MY CHOICE of career path to prepare me for what, I imagine to be a very challenging and rewarding career.
Priority No 1 – The client.
Now despite what people think not all clients wear suits or can even write their name. They don’t always arrive in your office smiling and ready to tell you of their difficulties, instead some are somewhat detained ‘in a place that they cannot leave to come to your office’. The client is entitled to the ‘best ‘ legal advice and assistance and criminal lawyers need to possess some extra skills that you don’t learn at University.
Skills of listening, understanding and compassion, even when the facts or circumstances of the case do not always sit comfortably with your own ideas of the world.
Life experience is a skill which gives new criminal lawyers a more human approach to dealing with clients.
In my first month at my new firm I have experienced life at the ‘coal face’ of Law.
Here are some examples of what I have been up to.
( I shall make no reference to particulars of ANY of my cases as client confidentiality is at the forefront of my ethical practice )
1. Viper Identification Parades – I attended at a police station for the process of conducting an identification parade. This is an electronic virtual ID parade in which a victim of crime views pictures on a screen and under controlled environment selects if possible an image that they can identify as the person accused of a particular crime. Having studied these on the Diploma in Legal practice it was good to see how they are carried out in real life and nothing written on paper actually prepares you for being up close with the victim and watching the reactions as they look at the screen.
2. Prison Visits – Attending at a maximum security prison was a good experience as It was the first time I had been inside a prison. At the front desk we were asked to remove any metal and leave our personal possessions in a locker. Looking around and seeing the many security cameras and detectors It had a clinical feel yet when we passed through to the area to meet with our client then what struck me was the colourful murals on the walls and vending machines for visitors.
3. Precognitions –taking statements from witnesses. Meeting with clients and taking statements is an important part of understanding your case. This month I have been familiarizing myself with all of my new workload which includes many cases and part of that job entails taking statements from both Crown witnesses and defence witnesses. It can be interesting and it can be upsetting , if the facts of the case are of a distressing nature. The key for me it to focus on gathering as much information as I can which may form an important part of evidence for counsel.
4. Court – Glasgow Sheriff court is the busiest Court in Europe and houses 22 courts with ……… cases heard on a daily basis. As I wandered round the court looking for the Bar Common room I found myself in a very busy court with several court room and with court business ranging from Custody court, Deferred sentences, First Diets, Intermediate Diets, preliminary pleas and Trials.
5. Case preparation – My job involves preparing cases from summary cases heard in the lower courts to solemn cases heard in the higher courts.
6. Clients – The best part of my job involves meeting with clients who are in some cases facing very difficult times ahead, they can be upset, worried and need first class advice. This, as a new trainee is my most challenging part of my job as I am very aware that dealing with real client’s lives requires me to focus more than ever on EVERYTHING I have learned at Law School.
This first month has been enormously challenging and has at times taken me outside of my comfort zone leaving me with questions such as ‘ Can I do this?’ ‘Am I good ENOUGH’? ‘Did LAW school prepare me for REAL Law?
It has made me question at times why I ever studied Law at all .
Arriving at my office early and finishing at 7.30 -8pm every night , leaving with many questions floating around my head and feeling that I am a bit out of my depth made me wonder IF IS THIS NORMAL for a newbie lawyer to feel like this?
What makes it all worth-while however is talking to other lawyers about their early days as a trainee and finding comfort that IT IS NORMAL , it is part of the learning curve.
The senior partner Ian Sievwright has given me something more valuable in this first month than any academic study – his time, and experience and of course a very patient manner with his new rookie lawyer.
My office is NOT plush. My desk is not clutter free with a bonsai plant and pictures of my lil eagles, I do not leave the office at 5pm smiling and trouble-free. My clients are NOT ON TWITTER and are not likely to be and I have learned that my dictation skills leave a lot to be desired but the one thing that hasn’t changed and is not likely to change is my PASSION for justice. My desire to give each and every one of my clients 100% of my attention , respect and knowledge and that I will fight for their right to access to a solicitor and access to a fair trial each and every day even when it seems like a goal that is unachievable. My clients will always be my No 1 Priority.
Sometimes in life the ‘easy route’ is not the ‘right route’.
Thank you for following my journey through LAW.
Comments are very welcome
Graham Walker Criminal Defence Solicitors is at 1584 Maryhill Road, Glasgow 0141 946 0111.
Michelle L. Hynes LL.B (Hons) DipLP (pending)