COVID-19 EXPERT LEGAL INSIGHTS

“You’re on mute” – reflections on starting a training contract during a pandemic

19 April 2021

In this blog, Kingsley Napley’s first year trainees reflect on the first six months of their training contracts, and joining the firm during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 

It’s July 2019. We have just received the news. We are going to be Kingsley Napley trainees. We are all about to embark on our glittering legal careers, in bustling central London, surrounded by brilliant Kingsley Napley lawyers.

Enter Covid-19.

It’s not quite what we pictured, but nothing has been. By September 2020, the firm was well-versed in the logistics of remote-working. It was no surprise that we would be beginning our training contracts from our kitchen tables. Or the bathroom, if our flatmate was on a call (no one has used the garden shed yet, but Rory was thinking about it.)

It is a testament to the firm that it has been such a smooth experience, and entirely thanks to our teams for their efforts in making us feel welcome in such difficult circumstances.

For the most part, we’ve not met our supervisors face-to-face. Regardless, they are consistently there and always go that extra mile to make sure we are not missing out on our training. In fact, as we settle into our second seats, we reflect on the first six months of our training contracts as filled with interesting work.  

  • Jordan has been getting to grips with the world of Clinical Negligence & Personal Injury. She’s been busy drafting letters of claim, attending virtual inquests, liaising with clients, instructing experts and trying to correctly pronounce medical terms with 129,021 syllables. Working on cases concerning serious injuries and death has been emotionally challenging but insightful. Her highlights include (virtually) attending the UK Supreme Court hearing on the case of Brownlie (a complex case concerning a desert safari tour resulting in a fatal road traffic accident in Egypt).
  • Rory  started in the Real Estate and Construction team. He is working on a mixture of residential and commercial property transactions, as well as non-contentious construction matters. He has been involved in purchases of prime residential property in London, and various commercial leases ranging from industrial units to dog kennels. For all the positives of his first seat, Rory regrets that the only holiday he’s managed to think about since joining Real Estate in lockdown has been the stamp duty holiday, which continues to dominate the calendars of those buying or selling properties.
  • Phoebe has been kept busy in the Private Client team with drafting or amending Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPAs) for clients assessing their priorities in later life. The Court of Protection work has also been striking; COVID-19 has brought an added layer of complexity to these clients. Specifically, she recalls an emergency application for a statutory Will for a gentleman who sadly died the next day after a long battle with COVID-19 pneumonia.
  • Imogen started in the Regulatory team where she has been preparing fitness to practise cases relating to professional misconduct and lack of competence. She has been busy interviewing witnesses, drafting statements and skeleton arguments and instructing experts. Imogen has also worked on defence cases, and COVID-19 meant that she joined the team as regulators were adjusting to virtual hearings. While this posed some challenges, it also meant Imogen could easily attend and observe hearings.
  • Jess in Corporate & Commercial has been busy involving herself in a suite of corporate, commercial and banking matters, from drafting NDAs and investment agreements to reviewing website terms & conditions and corporate governance documentation. Jess has enjoyed the diverse array of work and clients she has encountered in her first seat. Jess, however, has informed us that she has been in want of a trainee pub visit. The team’s online escape room social with a side of wine has, for the time being, alleviated this longing.  
  • Liam returned to the Family team where he worked previously as a paralegal. He has been assisting on a range of financial remedy and private law children cases, as well as a crossover with the Dispute Resolution team on a breach of privacy matter. Besides lunchtime “doomscrolling” a typical week has involved drafting applications and financial statements, analysing complex disclosure on trusts and other offshore assets, liaising with leading counsel, and attending hearings remotely. Liam was keen to get to know some of the team’s clients, but got more than he bargained for when tasked with reviewing a client’s entire message history with their partner. Word has it he knew the client rather well by page 954...
  • Sarah started in the Immigration team at a crucial point, where she has been getting to grips with the new Immigration Rules implemented in December 2020 and helped clients with pre and post Brexit transition queries. Sarah works with all three Immigration teams (two Corporate and one Private Client) on a variety of visa applications, from British citizenship and UK ancestry to sponsor licences. She finds the work in the Immigration team particularly satisfying as she has been building client relationships while working on matters from start to finish.

So our time during our first seats has been well spent. Frankly, though, we do miss the socials. We imagine there’s nothing like those Monday morning recaps of the weekend, and a G&T on a London summer evening must be glorious, surely? Nevertheless, we’ve enjoyed a couple of face-to-face socials under the rule of six (remember the rule of six?) and then, our virtual team socials. These have included cocktail-making and quizzes, as well as the stellar video by Immigration which won the Kingsley Napley Christmas jumper competition. We certainly all feel we have new skills to add to our CVs.

Despite this, the pandemic has inevitably disconnected us from the wider firm. It wasn’t just our careers we were excited about, it was the community. We were joining a community of individuals who would become our mentors, colleagues and friends.

Technology, and Zoom in particular, has helped enormously. We’ve worked closely with our teams and made huge strides in our training, from home. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to compare it to our previous version of ‘normal’. Normally, we’d interact with several different people simply by popping to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, or using the lift. We would be joining the Kingsley Napley sports teams (Phoebe’s personal and enduring regret) and singing in harmony with the Kingsley Napley Choir (rather than on mute, as Jordan and Sarah have been). Our days would be spent introducing ourselves and getting to know faces, names and personalities.

It’s the personalities we miss. It’s that instant bond when you catch your fellow sardine’s eye on the packed Central line. It’s persuading a colleague to grab another oat milk cappuccino from Pret (who thought we’d be so far from our next Pret?). It’s being able to say in person, “congratulations on your [promotion/baby/retirement].” It’s seeing our colleagues when they’re tired, or at capacity, and offering a hand. These interactions add up to a full working day, and building these relationships is as much a part of our training as the law.  

One way we have overcome this disconnect is through Kingsley Napley Responsible Business groups, such as LGBTQ+ & Allies, (Diff)ability, BAME, Social Mobility, Charities and Environment. These groups have introduced us to members of the firm beyond our teams. During their various meetings, it is a genuine pleasure to hear the firm’s voices discussing the pertinent issues still going on outside our reduced lockdown bubbles.

Thank you also to the second year trainees for organising calls and socials, and for their patience, and generosity with advice and reassurance.

So technology has been, without question, our saving grace in this pandemic. It has also been very tiring. There’s a specific kind of tired you feel after a day on video calls, and like all good things it’s become one of the defining phrases of 2020: “Zoom fatigue.”

It’s accepted that video-calls demand more focus than face-to-face communication. Our energy is now spent searching and decoding facial expressions and tone in the vaguely pixelated images of our colleagues. But it’s not just Zoom – we must remember that behind each of our laptop screens, every colleague is dealing with home-schooling, anxiety for family and friends, loneliness, loss and illness. As our usual worlds reduce to the same four walls, it’s no wonder that our mental health becomes at risk. We are fortunate that this risk is taken so seriously at Kingsley Napley. Unfailingly, each Friday we look forward to our Managing Partner Linda Woolley’s calm assessment of the latest in the pandemic. Every time, she reminds us of our support network, and well-being events and resources. To name a few: the KN Step Challenge, the Postcode Matching Initiative (encouraging colleagues to meet for local walks), the HIIT and Pilates sessions and the workshops on effective remote working.

As we begin our second seats, each of us reflects on our own highs and lows. If anything, this pandemic has been a lesson in counting blessings. One of those surely must be that despite all obstacles, we’re successfully completing our training contracts. And one day in a galaxy far, far away, we’ll emerge once again from the heaving Central line through the doors of our glossy office at Twenty Bonhill.

Further information

To find out more about training contracts and opportunities at Kingsley Napley, please see here. Applications for 2022 training contracts are currently open until 16 May 2021. Click here for details on how to apply.

You may also be interested in reading Lucy Bluck’s blog “Diary of a family and divorce trainee solicitor in lockdown”.

 

About the authors

  • Jordan Hawthorne is a trainee solicitor in the Corporate and Commercial team. Her previous seat was in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury department, where she assisted with litigating cases arising from serious injuries and fatal accidents.
  • Rory O'Donovan is a trainee solicitor in the Dispute Resolution team. His first seat was with the Real Estate and Construction team, where he assisted the team in residential and commercial property and construction matters.
  • Phoebe Alexander is currently a trainee solicitor in the Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team. Her previous seat was with the Private Client team, where she assisted with the administration of trusts and estates, and the drafting of Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney. Phoebe also assisted with Court of Protection matters, including the drafting of Deputyship applications.
  • Imogen Roberts is a trainee solicitor in the Public Law team. Her first seat was with the Regulatory team, where she assists with investigating and preparing fitness to practice cases relating to professional misconduct, ill-health and lack of competence.
  • Jessica Rice is a trainee solicitor in her second seat with the Real Estate and Construction team, having spent her first seat with the Corporate and Commercial team.   
  • Liam Hurren is a trainee solicitor in his second seat in the Private Client team. His first seat was with the Family and Divorce team, supporting them with all aspects of financial and private law children work.
  • Sarah Wylie is a trainee solicitor in the Dispute Resolution team, having spent her first seat with the Immigration team.

 

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