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My experience as a Trainee Solicitor

As her training contract comes to an end, Hannah Lennox looks back on her experience as a Trainee Solicitor

Introduction

Undertaking my training contract in the BPP Pro Bono Centre has been brilliant!  I work in a small but dedicated team who are always willing to offer support and advice to each other.  We collaborate on several aspects of how the Pro Bono Centre operates, whilst individually managing different projects.  I moved into the role in May 2019 after joining the team in 2017 as the Administrator and then moving to the role of Streetlaw Manager in 2018.  Prior to working at BPP I worked for Kent Law Clinic, focusing mainly on welfare benefits work.

What does the role involve?

One of the best aspects of my training contract is how involved I can be in the conduct of a client’s case.  I have represented several clients in Tribunal and County Court hearings on a range of applications including set-aside and strike-out applications and Rent Repayment Orders.  Rent Repayment Orders are an evolving area of law and so this had led to opportunities to deliver training sessions for other advice organisations through LawWorks.

I also regularly run training sessions for our student volunteers.  Most recently I wrote and delivered sessions on Universal Credit and Attendance Allowance for our form-filling volunteers.  This expanded into delivering Universal Credit sessions and Welfare Benefit Updates through my secondment to Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre.  Before I complete my training contract this month I will deliver a new and bespoke session on Universal Credit and PIP for another organisation, the request for which arose as their staff attended one of my earlier sessions.  Social welfare law leads to a collaborative work environment with excellent opportunities for networking.

I have undertaken two secondments during my training contract.  First, I spent a day each week in BPP’s in-house legal team.  This gave me an insight into the differences and benefits of corporate law.  I experienced different types of work including contract reviews, risk assessments and drafting a Cease and Desist Letter.  Since December 2019 I have been seconded to Hammersmith and Fulham Law Centre (H&FLC).  I have been able to expand my experiences of housing law by drafting instructions to experts, working on disrepair cases that are eligible for Legal Aid and billing in a Legal Aid setting.  I have also been able to focus on some welfare benefits work – ranging across PIP, ESA, UC and Attendance Allowance claims.  Following interviews with clients, I drafted submissions and have attended appeal hearings.

Within the BPP team, a key part of my role is in ensuring our housing and family advice appointments are properly organised and can go ahead.  Moving to remote delivery in March 2020 provided some challenges but also opportunities that will benefit our volunteers and clients even once we are able to offer in-person appointments again.  I manage several teams of student volunteers that are in contact with our clients from their initial contact with us, through to their appointment and letter drafting.  As a result of the move to online teaching our training has also moved to remote-delivery.  The Clinics team at BPP collaborated on a suite of training videos that were launched in October 2020 and will provide a useful resource volunteers can refer back to.

What is your biggest achievement in the role?

One of my biggest achievements in the role has been representing a client in an oversized Tribunal hearing – I say oversized because the hearing was held in Wandsworth Civic Suite and was much larger than the usual Tribunal hearing rooms.  This was reflective of the size of the application, which related to approximately 2,500 leases, and of the wider-reaching implications the case would have had for people who were not even aware the hearing was taking place at all.  I represented four leaseholders who sought to have Wandsworth Council’s application to the tribunal struck-out.  The Council were represented by a QC. We succeeded and you can read my blog on the case here.

What training does BPP give you?

Alongside the experience gained by conducting client appointments, drafting letters of advice and other documents, and representing clients in hearings, BPP offers a range of professional development courses, including the Professional Skills Course and Higher Rights of Audience courses.  Therefore, I have undertaken in excess of twenty training courses covering different areas of law, practice and procedure, as well as professional skills such as drafting, communication skills and negotiation.

What supervision are you given?

The support and guidance from the Supervising Solicitors at BPP is fantastic.  I could not imagine a more supportive team.  I have been fortunate to have been managed by Tony Martin, Head of Clinics at BPP, who is an experienced Housing Solicitor.  Tony brings a range of experiences to our weekly supervision discussions, comparing the experience I have had on a case with other experiences he has had in a range of practice settings.  Tony keeps himself up to date with the SRA requirements for Trainees, which means he provides excellent support and guidance through the SRA requirements of a training contract.

I have also been supported by my Training Principal, Jessica Austen, and the Clinics’ other Supervising Solicitors throughout my training contract.  Emma Blackstone and Pamela Grant have supervised my family casework.  Their experiences have provided valuable insights into the very different area of family law.  Angela Cahill and Lucy Wildig also supervise our BPP Legal Advice Clinics and have been a great source of guidance and support when I have needed a point in the right direction.

Prior to each client appointment I discuss the case with the Supervising Solicitor.  We look at the information we have so far and the information we need to obtain in the meeting.  In some family cases the Supervising Solicitor has sat in on my client interviews; in most cases I have conducted the interview alone.  Following the appointment I discuss the case again with the Supervisor and then draft the letter of advice and anything else that has been agreed.  Where I have ongoing case matters, these are reviewed in weekly supervision meetings.

One requirement of a training contract is to keep a weekly written record of work and training undertaken.  These have been a useful reflection point and form a part of the weekly supervision meetings.

What are your career options?

Mary Prescott was the first Trainee within our team and we worked closely together.  Mary took a role as a Housing Solicitor with a Law Centre when she left BPP and I am also looking to move into a role in a Law Centre.  One of the main attractions of a Law Centre Housing Solicitor role is the ability to assist people in defending their homes – Legal Aid is available in disrepair and possession cases, which provides a significant proportion of the housing work Law Centres undertake.

I am also extremely passionate about a career in welfare benefits law.  It is an area that attracts little funding so, aware that some large firms conduct welfare benefits cases for fixed fees, I am keen to find an organisation that supports people pro bono with their welfare benefits matters.  Again, Law Centres often provide this support for clients despite it not providing funding (except where Legal Aid is available for Upper Tribunal appeals).

A large part of my training contract has focused on family law work.  I often think “the poor child” and so I will also have an eye open for family law positions focused on protecting and representing children.

Ultimately, having worked in higher education settings for 6 years means I am keen to continue my involvement in projects which engage students, the profession of the future, in pro bono work.  It is apparent that law students who understand the value (and limits) of pro bono go on to become lawyers who understand the importance of supporting pro bono work.  My career has undoubtedly been shaped by my involvement with University pro bono Clinics.

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