A seat in private client

When I reflect on my seat in private client, it is easy to appreciate how valuable private client work is for any trainee solicitor.

23 November 2018
Countryside estate

By trainee solicitor Harrison Packer

When I was thinking about becoming a lawyer, I wasn’t sure whether I would prefer working for private or commercial clients long-term. Figuring that out was my top priority, but at the same time I didn't want to compromise on experiencing high quality commercial work during my training. Burges Salmon's strong commercial focus and successful private client practice made the firm the perfect choice.

My seat in the private client team

Trainees at Burges Salmon meet regularly with their People Team contacts to discuss their progress. I enjoyed the private client elective on the LPC, so at the start of my training contract I used these meetings to explain my interest in private client and especially probate work. After seats in Real Estate and then Planning, I spent my third seat in the Private Client team sitting with the firm’s Head of Probate, which I think is testament to the work the People Team does to accommodate trainees’ interests within each seat.

During my four months in the team I drafted countless wills and powers of attorney, prepared deputyship applications to the Court of Protection, took an active role in some of the technical tax planning issues the team was working on and enjoyed a high level of responsibility in the administration of a number of estates. My seat involved a significant amount of direct client contact, including at one stage leading a client meeting myself.

Working with private clients

When I reflect on my time with the team, it is easy to appreciate how valuable private client work is for any trainee solicitor, whether your interest is heavily commercial or otherwise. Working for individuals and their families has a very different feel to working for commercial organisations: your work is intensely personal for your client, and as a result there is much for a trainee to learn from a lawyer-client relationship with a very different dynamic.

Where many commercial organisations have in-house legal teams or are dealing with familiar transactions or contracts for the umpteenth time, private clients may never have made a will or dealt with somebody’s estate before; and they may well be unfamiliar with the law and the jargon that goes with it. I think that is what makes private client work so enjoyable: it’s about understanding people and their families and calmly guiding them through what are often confusing and emotional situations.

Developing transferable skills

Observing and engaging with this more personal type of work has significantly improved my legal skills. A high level of client contact has improved my confidence taking on responsibility and handling matters independently, and working on smaller matters has enabled me to closely observe how client relationships are managed. Some people might think a private client seat wouldn’t be much help in more commercial seats to come, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Often, in commercial matters, lawyers will only work with a handful of key individuals from a client organisation, and so the interpersonal and relationship-management skills developed during a period of private client work could hardly be more transferable.

I have no doubt that I will get more from the remainder of my training contract because of my private client seat, and I would absolutely recommend applying to Burges Salmon for the opportunity to try both types of work. You'll also learn how to draft a great will, which isn’t a bad skill for any lawyer to have!