A training contract seat in banking

Your first training contract seat can be a daunting experience. I was fortunate enough to have a great experience in the banking team.

18 May 2017

By trainee solicitor Benjamin Boss

The Burges Salmon banking team offers a full complement of banking and finance, and insolvency services in the UK and overseas (for banks, building societies and other financial institutions, PLCs and corporate clients) and here's how it worked out for me.

Early responsibility for trainees

One of the greatest facets of the banking department is the amount of responsibility you can take on as a trainee. After years of exams and vocational training, trainees are always keen to contribute as much as possible and feel real value for their input.

In many firms, a trainee in banking would feel like a small-cog in a large machine, but the work at Burges Salmon is of sufficient value for national and international recognition (most arrangements being between £10-80 million), while being varied enough to allow trainees and newly qualified solicitors to really participate.

The lawyers are responsive in advancing knowledge and training, irrespective of your stage of qualification, and you are allowed to take as much responsibility (whether in transactions, client contact or otherwise) as you are able.

The quality of supervision is also high and provides breathing space to reflect on mistakes and successes before becoming involved in something new. By the end of my seat I was entrusted with almost all drafting on deals and leading completions (under supervision), a relatively unique experience as a trainee.

Organisation

While organisation may not sound like one of the more white-knuckle aspects of being a solicitor, it is one of the aspects of the legal profession that is most complained about. A lack of visible organisation or keeping the client involved in a transaction is likely to leave clients with an impression of their legal counsel as the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland, appearing and disappearing as and when they please, with varying amounts of success.

Trainees from all walks of life struggle initially with organisation in a commercial legal environment and banking work provides a crash-course in this, which can make you invaluable to a transaction. A major trainee task is to run the conditions precedent for financing arrangements for a matter associate and to be aware of the status of the varying facets of a deal.

The above, in addition to responsibilities in drafting, client contact and any insolvency work you might undertake, is one of the main reasons why a seat in banking is so important for trainee solicitors. The transferrable skills required are useful regardless of department or stage of training and a real asset for those willing to embrace them.

Inter-departmental and cross-border work

A banking seat exposes you to work both within different departments of the firm and to elements of work in other jurisdictions.

I was involved with real estate financing transactions (exposing trainees to the real estate department) and project financing transactions (exposing trainees to the projects, construction and corporate teams (as required)), among other things, and utilising the knowledge and sub-specialities of your colleagues is essential to the success of a deal. In addition, witnessing the depth of resources in your firm and coordinating intra-firm timescales shows trainees a form of project management far from textbooks; the intricacies and workings of a commercial law firm being essential to progression as a lawyer.

A very important part of the banking department, and a prime example of specialisation and utilising firm resources in practice, is the corporate restructuring and insolvency department. Insolvency work is complex and exposes you to black-letter law. Assisting in the resolution of complex issues involved with restructuring or distressed proceedings really emphasised the breadth and depth of knowledge within the department (with training sessions and feedback being frequent and highly useful) and the variation of the work you can become involved with, within a single department.

From the very first matter I was involved with, it became obvious that much of the work undertaken is truly cross-border. Whether this is instructing counsel in Jersey to prepare a legal opinion and corporate authorisations, or coordinating a pan-European panel of law firms for jurisdiction specific advice (undertaken for Bowler Eggs and Rotork plc, respectively, early on in my seat), the international nature of the work increases the variety of both work done and clients you interact with. Few people can say that their job changes every day.

Learning financial terminology

By its very nature, banking work (with the exception of insolvency work) is acronym heavy and law-light. Although initially disconcerting within a law firm, this makes perfect sense in the context of a commercially focused department.

Almost all clients are from a finance (or business) background and are naturally keenly interested in the commercial elements of a transaction (and related documentation) rather than their basis in law. Negotiation and performance are key elements for clients and understanding their aims, whilst facilitating the legal requirements of a deal, are key parts of the job of a banking lawyer.

The work enables you to develop as a lawyer, as well as gaining a commercial understanding and speak to clients in a different industry as if it were your own. Banking lawyers are highly pragmatic and commercially savvy to bridge the gap between the legal and finance industry.

Training and support

Training is essential to progression in the banking department. No one is born with an understanding of commercial terminology present in facility agreements. Training sessions (coupled with background reading and Investopedia) helped the other trainees and I get to grips with all elements of terminology and ultimately gain an overview of a transaction from start to finish.

The sessions were also an introduction to the social dynamic of the team. No question was off limits, knowledge sharing was frequent and trainees were encouraged to really get to know members of the team, socially as well as professionally. The training culminated in trainees presenting on topics at knowledge sharing meetings, and the camaraderie of the team made such events enjoyable ( in addition to improving lawyerly skills) and this is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed the seat so much.

Key contact

A training contract seat in banking

Negotiation and performance are key elements for clients and understanding their aims, while facilitating the legal requirements of a deal, are key parts of the job of a banking lawyer.
Benjamin Boss, Trainee Solicitor

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