Bright Network member and University of Cambridge graduate Eloise is a Trainee Solicitor at a top American law firm. She shares with you what it's really like working in Commercial Law. Here's an idea of a typical day.
A typical day begins with emails. As a corporate lawyer, you have to get to know your email inbox extremely well from day one – you’ll be spending a lot of time on it. Emails tend to come in overnight, as international law firms work across jurisdictions and time zones. The first task of the day is working through the backlog.
At this point, I’ll usually be checking my to-do lists and calendar, as well as my voicemail for missed calls. Tasks that have come into my email inbox have to be quickly reviewed and prioritised according to urgency. (If you’ve ever done an ‘in-tray exercise’ at an open day or assessment centre, this is the reality it prepares you for.)
Once the day’s tasks become clearer, I can start work on bigger projects. Typical trainee jobs could be reviewing or marking up agreements, analysing corporate structure charts or carrying out research. Often, I’ll be asked to write up my conclusions into a note or email summary for a senior lawyer. This is a skill in itself – it’s a genuine test of whether you understood the content enough to be able to explain it to someone else.
Around lunchtime, there will often be training for junior lawyers – either on a general topic for the whole firm, or for a particular practice group (for example, Capital Markets or Finance). Trainees also get separate training sessions, which run through the basics of certain trainee-level tasks.
After lunch, it’s back to the desk. There will usually be meetings throughout the day – either in person or by conference call. Trainees usually attend meetings with clients when possible, in order to take notes (and try to learn something from the process).
There are often a number of opportunities throughout the day to catch up with a supervising lawyer (either your official ‘supervisor’, with whom you usually share an office, or another senior lawyer working on your project). This is the best time to ask all the questions that have inevitably come up throughout your day. It’s also a great opportunity to find out more background information about the project you’re working on, or ask for general tips/advice. Actively seeking out feedback is something that should be built into your natural approach to work – it’s a fast-track to self-development, and demonstrates a genuine interest in what you’re doing.
Throughout the day, new tasks will land on your desk, and old tasks can easily reappear at any moment (even if you thought the project was finished). Your to-do list will become your best friend in this situation – it helps you stay on top of what needs to be done today and what can be pushed off into the future.
In a corporate seat, emails are exchanged at a fast pace, and a big part of your job is to stay on top of things. A trainee is well placed to keep the rest of the deal team updated – you’ll often be copied into all email correspondence, which means you can provide helpful overview updates to more senior lawyers.
On a good day, emails tend to slow down towards the 5pm mark – and this is where your real, concentrated work can begin. Whether it’s marking up a document, or helping to draft a legal opinion, these (relatively) undisturbed hours can be your most productive - making a 4.30pm trip to Starbucks is absolutely essential to top up your energy levels!
Once you resurface from a couple of hours of decent, focused work, you might be rewarded with your freedom for the night. Associates and trainees often catch up over a drink at a local bar, but the blessings of technology (in the form of a company phone) will mean that you’re never too far away from that familiar email inbox.
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About the author
After joining Bright Network back in 2010 and studying Law at the University of Cambridge, Eloise is a trainee at a top American Law firm. You can find her Bright Network Alumni profile just here.