Seat rotations: cultural pick n mix

Contentious versus transactional? Commercial versus personal? You’re unlikely to know without dabbling in them all…

08 July 2016

By trainee solicitor Cate Brown

Shrimps; jazzies; milk bottles; strawberry laces; flying saucers; cola bottles: the list of pick n mix classics is endless. What always surprises me about any trip to the cinema – beyond inflation – is the choices people make when it comes to sweet selections. Friends have been horrified at my selection of dolly mixtures, while I have been equally aghast at loved one’s preference for bonbons.

Extrapolate that to law and you have the training process, which at Burges Salmon sees trainees sample five different departments before choosing one for qualification. Much like the debate surrounding pick n mix, the various departments elicit very different reactions in people. Some love the fast pace and fiery nature of working in dispute resolution; others dislike it. Some love the collaborative nature of working in real estate, of working with the other side to conclude a deal; others find this predictable and dull. You get the idea.

Transactional v contentious seats

These differing reactions reflect the wider question that trainees are often asked as they approach qualification; ‘are you for transactional or contentious work?’ The question is a valid one – I found there to be a notable difference between the work and culture of my transactional (real estate and commercial) and contentious seats (dispute resolution and family).

While legal research still featured in commercial, be it the validity of e-signatures throughout the EU or evolving data protection duties, research tasks arose more frequently during my contentious seats, where decisions ultimately stem from legal merit rather than commercial heads of terms. Lawyers in commercial and real estate are required from the outset, when parties wish to form a joint venture or complete the lease of a property. This can be contrast with the role of lawyers in dispute resolution and family, who are called upon to fix things when relationships – commercial or personal – break down.

Of course there is some overlap. The grey area between contentious and transactional arises when commercial negotiations become heated or if commercial implications dictate a settlement, irrespective of legal merit. Then, of course, there are areas of law (such as employment or environment) where there is an even split between contentious and non-contentious work. Upon qualification, I will have spent eight months in employment, where our work defending tribunal claims sits alongside our review of employment-related warranties or senior executives’ contracts of employment.

Alongside key work differences, seat rotations will expose you to a range of working cultures and practices. While the same core values pervade the firm, the cultural differences between the various departments mean that you often feel like you’re training at mini-firms; an observation that many of my peers working at other law firms would endorse. Figuring out the ‘best fit’ for you is part of the training process and, irrespective of where you end up, provides valuable work experience. Put another way, my preference for dolly mixtures emerged, in part, from my sampling of bonbons.

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Seat rotations: cultural pick n mix

My preference for dolly mixtures emerged, in part, from my sampling of bonbons.
Cate Brown, Trainee Solicitor

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