My training contract experience at the Employment Tribunal

All firms claim to give trainees ‘real responsibility’ and ‘client-facing work’ during their training contract. I can vouch for the fact that Burges Salmon does just that.

20 October 2017

By trainee solicitor Tom Gillett

During my training contract seat in the employment department, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks at a hearing in the Manchester Employment Tribunal. Tribunals are less formal than other courts, so no wigs or gowns, but many of the same traditions and practices are maintained and expected – there is a lot to learn.

The case I was working on was a high-profile matter involving former employees of one of the firm’s key clients, and while my more experienced colleagues were only ever a phone call away, I was the sole representative of the firm throughout the hearing.

Real responsibility

To be honest, I was quite surprised to learn that I would be the only Burges Salmon fee-earner in attendance, but was reassured by the confidence that other colleagues showed in my abilities.

Like any good performance, the secret to a smooth hearing is meticulous preparation. As a trainee you will find yourself responsible for the logistics, such as liaising with court clerks about document delivery and timings, and reserving meeting rooms for counsel and witnesses, as well as ensuring that you have copies of all the documents and that you take good notes.

While responsibility may not be all about glitz and glamour, I can’t pretend it wasn’t exciting to sit at the front of the court assisting the barrister. I was even asked a couple of questions directly by the judge and, to my surprise, I knew the answer.

Client-facing work

A number of the clients were present throughout the week and I was responsible for making sure they knew what to expect and what would be expected of them. Several were also witnesses in the case and, despite being senior directors in their own business, were quite nervous about appearing on the stand. I had been briefed that this is quite common and did my best to keep them calm and help them through what is undoubtedly a stressful experience.

It soon became obvious that this was one of those occasions when being a good lawyer is not only about knowing the law, but also about understanding what makes people tick – in fact the law was often the last thing the witnesses wanted to talk about.

Working with counsel

From a personal development point of view, working one-on-one with a barrister was hugely rewarding and I learned a great deal. Once I had demonstrated to him that I could get the small things right (all those unglamorous jobs I mentioned), I noticed that he began bouncing ideas off me and asking my opinion on some key points of the case.

In the last few days there were a couple of late nights, but it all felt worth it when some of my drafting was used in the final submissions to the judge. And when we won the case of course!

Key contact

My training contract experience at the Employment Tribunal

To be honest, I was quite surprised to learn that I would be the only Burges Salmon fee-earner in attendance, but was reassured by the confidence that other colleagues showed in my abilities.
Tom Gillett, Trainee Solicitor

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