The pro bono effect
We sometimes find ourselves wondering, "pro bono, why bother"? But the truth is, pro bono gives us the biggest platform to effect change for those who otherwise would go unheard.
My first encounter with what I'll define (incredibly broadly) as "the justice system" occurred when I was eight years old, and sat across our classroom work-group table from a friend called Chloe. While Chloe was also eight years old, she was (and still is…) significantly taller than I, and would often extend her legs under our table so they encroached on what I rather protectively viewed as my personal space. Finding this to be incredibly unfair, I let Chloe know that she had no right to use what was (in my mind) rightfully my space. But within a few minutes her legs were back on my side of the table. The tension between us rose and our teacher asked that we each explain the situation from our own perspectives. She then explained that while neither of us were wrong, per se, in what we viewed as "fair", neither of our positions took account of the whole situation, or the other person’s perspective. Chloe and I were encouraged to discuss our views, and come up with a solution that was fair to us both.
While with age, life experience and a few years of law school my expectations for what is fair and just (and how easily that can be achieved) have evolved, my interaction with Chloe was the first time I recognised how important it was to have my perspective not only be voiced, but actively considered.
This is the premise which underpins not only access to justice, but encapsulates the desire of every client I've had the privilege of working with at Toynbee Hall’s Free Legal Advice Centre – to clearly express themselves, to be heard and to have their perspective actively considered.
As lawyers we are incredibly privileged to have not only knowledge of the law, but also a comprehensive understanding of the array of often non-legal options available to people who feel they have been wronged or have an issue they need solved. We come fully equipped with the ability to analyse, strategise, think logically, problem solve, and write and speak well – a rather unique set of skills that can be used to expand access to justice outside our commercial law firm setting and reach people who might not otherwise have access to our expertise.
Pro bono comes from “pro bono public,” a Latin term meaning “for the public good.” It involves lawyers and law students volunteering their time to assist people who desperately need legal assistance and have no resources to get the support they need.
When asked, many lawyers will say they went to law school to make a difference in the world. And yes being a lawyer does make a difference, but perhaps not in the concrete way pro bono work can do. Through pro bono lawyers can make the legal system work for people who have nothing to give but their gratitude, empowering these people to clearly express themselves, to be heard and to have their perspective actively considered.
“We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give."
Pro Bono: Law Works can work for you
From the opportunity to apply my legal property knowledge, to working with and learning from colleagues across the business: notwithstanding the value of working for a good cause, Law Works has benefited my career greatly. Here's my experience to date.
My fellow trainee, Jake, and I decided to team up and work on a Law Works matter together. A trainee's workload can often be unpredictable and so sharing the load proved to be a good solution for us. It was nice to know there was someone to take the reins if either of us was otherwise occupied. We chose bid on a property litigation matter concerning service charge issues under a lease of a property between a local charity and a local authority. We selected this matter because I had just started my property litigation seat which Jake had just exited. We decided that we wanted to apply that knowledge, to develop skills we were in the process of learning.
We were ultimately successful and so under the expert supervision of property litigators Lara Nyman and Bhavini Patel we embarked on our first Law Works pro bono matter. One of the benefits of getting involved with pro bono is that it gives you exposure to teams and people you wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to work with … although in this particular case, we were acquainted with the team and it was great to build on those relationships.
One of the challenges a trainee faces is that moving from seat to seat means it’s not always possible to see a matter through from start to finish. However, working on a Law Works matter enables you to do just that. From opening the file, drafting and sending an appropriately worded retainer letter, to corresponding with the client and trying to identify with them their main objectives. It’s useful for both you and the client to be able to identify what’s at issue and also the clients ultimate goal.
In this particular case, Jake and I used our property skills to review the relevant lease provisions, identify the breaches and outline the effect of this in a commercial context. From a litigious point of view, we were able to identify what the client needed to do to avoid being in continuous breach of the lease and what they needed to do to avoid litigation and other potential devastating consequences.
Aside from the obvious learning opportunities, this was a great matter for Jake and I to get involved in and we enjoyed working with the client throughout. Law Works matters in general are challenging learning opportunities and also an excellent way to give something back. The service and assistance that we provide to all of the various charities involved is so important and the fact that we can give them our time at no cost means a great deal to the individuals affected.
My top tip to bear in mind when taking on a Law Works matter is to treat it as any other fee earning work!
Within the first few months of my training contract, a number of exciting opportunities arose that I chose to participate in. Stepping away from your desk and seizing the opportunity to network is crucial to establishing your personal brand; you want to be seen as pro-active, confident and approachable from day one, both internally and externally.
In October, Howard Kennedy hosted the LAW 2016 AGM in London with 144 delegates and 60 accompanying persons attending. Each of the delegates and their friends and family were invited to do a tour of the Tower of London, which I was fortunate enough to also attend to help guide our international guests around.
This opportunity allowed me to network with lawyers from across the globe, all with substantial experience representing middle market companies and high net worth individuals with cross-border legal needs. I spoke in depth to Partners from Brazil, Canada and Australia as we walked around the Tower of London and at a cocktail reception hosted at our offices afterwards – it was a great excuse to exchange my first business card and a good informal experience to refine my networking skills.
Within the first week of my training contract, Rob Lands (Partner and Head of IP & Commercial) asked if any trainees were interested in running a series of pro-bono seminars for Central St Martins Art & Design College.
Seven trainees, a combination of first year and second year trainees, volunteered to run three different workshops. I worked closely with another first year trainee, Jake Calvert, to produce a two hour long interactive presentation on Product Liability that we were to present to product and industrial design students at the University.
The firm were so supportive and fellow trainees and partners sat in to listen to our presentations before we went to the University. It was a fantastic opportunity for the trainees to take time to meet with each other and research a project together and to network with people within the firm. The presentation was a huge success and it was genuinely exciting to sit down with the students after the session and find out all about the products they were designing. We were thrilled to be invited back to the University to see the final products at the end of year exhibition.
Sometimes, you need a bit of down time too. Our Social Committee hosted a Poker Night in November, and being the complete novice that I am I did contemplate sacking the game off in favour of the copious amounts of Pizza that arrived halfway through the evening. Little did I know that a few hours later I would be runner up – it was such a fun
night and a great way to relax with colleagues and get to know people you work with in a more informal atmosphere.
I also arranged a Comedy Night for the trainees, which was a right laugh (!) and a great way to unwind after a week of hard work.
Be pro-active and enjoy your training contract – stepping away from your desk is incredibly rewarding, whether it is to network, present or just to take a bit of time out with your colleagues.
Yes, it might seem obvious, that we do what we say on the tin and "train".
However, it has been a pleasant surprise to experience that Howard Kennedy fully commits to our training and development.
It's safe to say that "training" can, more often than not, be interpreted as being thrown in at the deep end and learning as you go; as you take client calls, as you respond to the other side's solicitor and as you do a piece of research for a colleague. These are all definitely the best ways to get a grip on the day to day running in your department.
However, here at Howard Kennedy, we also get involved in a lot of training and development away from our desk.
I assumed there would be the obligatory bit of introductory training in the first week or two, but there has been plenty to keep us busy since then.
Not only is the quantity and quality of training we receive high, but the variety of aspects we cover is equally broad.
From a Real Estate point of view, we attend a range of seminars, with colleagues of different levels of experience within the firm involved. For example we have:
In addition to the Real Estate seminars on offer, there are general 'Knowledge' seminars, where our Knowledge Hub Master, Robin Hall, lets us know what new and exciting sources of information we have and how we can use them to get the most from them.
And this is not just in Real Estate; my fellow trainees in Corporate are kept busy with interactive seminars where they discuss drafting documents, as well as seminars where they present to their whole department.
Outside of department and client-work focused seminars, we have regular sessions with HR to develop and broaden our soft skills.
We also have seminars where we learn about how we can most effectively contribute to the success of our clients and the firm as a whole, from the work that we do, to the networking that we get involved in.
All of the above ensure that we are keeping up with the law in our department, are challenging ourselves to provide the best service for our clients and are developing our owns skills for the future.
Raising your profile covers a wide range of activities both within and outside of the firm, from external networking events to creating articles such as these. Whilst it may be difficult to take proactive steps for external marketing as a trainee (although as Adriana's excellent article points out, Howard Kennedy presents you with great external networking opportunities too!), your internal marketing should be a fundamental part of your training contract.
Personally, I don't find that internal networking comes naturally. It is one thing to sell yourself to people you don't know, but it can sometimes be very uncomfortable to do the same thing to your colleagues. However, it is as a trainee that you are handed the once in a career opportunity to move departments every six months; never again will you get the opportunity to interact with such a wide range of people within the firm.
Fostering these relationships is the hard but crucial bit. There are many ways to keep yourself at the front of peoples' minds, here's a few examples that are encouraged at Howard Kennedy:
Some of these are easier to do than others - I find attending social events organised by the firm to be the best for me (and the most fun!). Such events at Howard Kennedy give you the opportunity to spend time with people who you may not know well enough for a one-on-one, but would still like to have a chat with (and remind them that you are great ).
Howard Kennedy have a great range of social events ranging from Cheese and wine tasting to Poker nights to Yoga. There is also the opportunity to attend firm wide training sessions, for those of you who don't enjoy group social activities. It is important to find the method that works best for you.
Whatever your preference, building and maintaining relationships made during your training contact is an invaluable skill to raise your profile and your personal brand within the firm.
My top tips whichever method you chose are:
As the Howard Kennedy application deadline has now closed, it is now time for potential trainees to be preparing for the next stage: the assessment centre. Here are a few tips to focus on before the big day.
Of course assessors want to hear your opinions but they also want to see how well you work with others. You should be diplomatic not domineering, confident not cocky and assertive not aggressive.
Ultimately you will be assessed not just on your knowledge and skills, but on whether you are somebody they would like to work with. If you shout over others and use 'Apprentice-style' undermining tactics on the other candidates, even Lord Sugar wouldn’t want to hire you.
This point cannot be overstated.
Do not just regurgitate what you have learnt off the firm’s homepage the night before. There are so many sources available there is no excuse for not finding out about the firm’s clients, practice areas and recent cases that have been reported in the press.
When it comes to explaining why you want to work at the firm you need to find something unique to say, not something that couldn’t be said about every firm or by every candidate.
There is no one ‘Howard Kennedy type.’ the firm is looking to recruit a diverse range of lawyers to reflect their diverse client base. The firm wants to see your personality and they are looking to hire a variety of trainees who can each contribute something unique.
Having said that, remember to be yourself, but yourself in a commercial context. They are looking to see what you will be like at work, so dress appropriately and act as you would when meeting a client for the first time.
Don’t just focus on the people assessing you, but remember to be friendly to the other candidates and even the receptionist! Eventually, you will be sent out to meet clients and if you can’t show respect to people of all levels of seniority, this will reflect badly.
You are not expected to know everything. If you don’t know the answer to something, explain how you would work the answer out and what commercial factors would be relevant to the problem. No firm wants to hire lawyers who bluff their way through life, it’s always better to be honest than pretend you know something you don't.
Try not to get too stressed. Think of it as an opportunity to meet some interesting people and get an insight into how a central London law firm operates. You will get to ask questions so think of some things you are genuinely interested in and want to learn more about.
A few months ago, the trainees were asked to promote Howard Kennedy’s training contract on social media. The deadline was looming and the trainee recruitment team wanted to make sure that we reached a wide range of candidates.
So there I was, sitting on the tube, thinking #millennial thoughts (how do I become more like Beyoncé, how can I make my #goals a reality, must make my brows more on fleek, hashtag hashtag hashtag etc.) and it hit me. Firms are always trying to provide a picture of what trainee life is like (in fact, that is the provenance of this blog), but it can be difficult to accurately and honestly portray the realities of our day-to-day responsibilities. What we needed was a way for potential applicants to have direct access to the trainees and for us to be able to communicate in a “live-action” context what we are up to. What better way than via Twitter?
And thus, the #traineetakeover was born.
I suggested that the Howard Kennedy twitter account was handed over to us trainees for a day, to host regular updates of our activities and to respond to any questions from applicants about our training contracts and applications generally.
Suitably briefed on dealing with the dreaded trolls, we went about preparing for the event. In advance of the big day we got in touch with our contacts in the graduate recruitment world, asking them to keep an eye on #traineetakeover and to retweet where they could, and I asked the trainees to start thinking about responses to questions which we expected to receive and to be prepped and ready to answer queries as they arrived. Then the day came, and I was handed the firm iPad, to the considerable concern of the Comms team…
The questions started rolling in pretty quickly, ranging from concerns about making a CV with strong academics stand out from the crowd, to etiquette for video interviews.
@andy_w94 All of them! In Prop you can see transn from start-end, Lit has gd advoc opps, PC gives gd client contact, Corp is pure adrenaline— Howard Kennedy (@HowardKennedy_) April 19, 2016
I think I spent most of that day trying to cram helpful career advice into 140 characters. In the end, responses dissolved into a patchwork of emojis:
We also posted updates from trainees in different departments all day.
In the interests of client confidentiality, I was forced to download a “blur tool” app (who knew such things existed?!). And then, as quickly as it began, it was over.
Analysis of the data from #traineetakeover shows we had quite an impact on our reach on social media during the day.
But the best result is that the campaign had a real effect on the traffic to our trainee recruitment page, with a significant spike in unique page views on the day, only beaten by the our graduate recruitment deadline day on 22 April:
I’m delighted with how well the campaign went and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this it’s that if you think you have a good idea, run with it. It rarely hurts to increase your profile within the firm, and you could gain invaluable training in areas in which perhaps you were not so skilled before. Like selfies for example.
Having just started the second seat of my training contract, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on the first 6 months of my training contract at Howard Kennedy. So much has happened over the last six months that it would be near impossible for me to put together a round-up that really captures my experience so far, so I'll focus this post on just two memorable events so you don't fall asleep whilst reading.
First up is my secondment. During the summer of 2015, I was sat in a restaurant having a conversation with a retired couple. I asked them what advice they had for someone my age, they replied, “Whenever an opportunity comes your way grab it, even if the opportunity is to work on Mars, ensure that you take it.”
Fast-forward to my training contract and with their wise words engrained in my mind, I was offered a chance to spend a couple of months of my real estate seat on secondment with one of Howard Kennedy’s property development clients, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
The secondment was an excellent chance for me to gain a real understanding of in-house legal practice, as well as being exposed to the different areas of the law that govern real estate development. I was also given an insight into the corporate structures and funding mechanisms that are required when undertaking new development projects. On a few occasions, I even found myself fully clad in a hard hat, high visibility jacket, and boots discussing construction issues with site managers.
Overall, it was great to be able to have this opportunity so soon into my training contract and the experience I gained will be invaluable in the future - and I suppose slightly more practical than working on Mars.
The second memorable moment I'd like to touch on is our Commercial Property Training Sessions
If any Howard Kennedy trainee, both past and present, were asked to produce a list of the most memorable aspects of trainee life at Howard Kennedy, they would all undoubtedly make some form of reference to the weekly ‘Junior Lawyer Programme’.
Although Howard Kennedy is a full-service law firm, real estate is the firm’s largest department and trainees are encouraged to develop a good understanding of property law during their training contract.
Consequently, trainees are required to attend weekly commercial property training sessions, which are run by two legendary lawyers who have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience over their many years of practice. These sessions are particularly interesting due to their anecdotal nature, as the principals are able to highlight examples of legal challenges and the perplexities that they have come across.
Each week a new area of commercial leases or commercial property sales are discussed. As such, one week we may be discussing insurance provisions in a lease and the next week we will be discussing the risk provisions in a contract for sale.
These sessions are topped off with the firm renowned Howard Kennedy sandwich platter and fruit bowl, which always leaves you with the desire to come back for more.
Let’s see what the next 6 months bring!
As a trainee, it is easy to think that at this stage of your legal career there is no point to networking. About one month into my training contract, I got asked to attend a London Property Forum networking event with a colleague. It was held at the Hippodrome Casino. The event itself was great - bottomless champagne and free gambling, need I say more? The room was filled with mostly senior people from various companies and law firms. They all seemed to know each other. I suddenly felt intimidated standing there, champagne in hand and nobody to talk to, while everybody else seemed to be (a) in a senior position and (b) in a group talking as if they were all already friends.
I knew that if I stood in the corner of the room the entire night, the likelihood of me meeting people wouldn’t be high. I noticed there were some standing tables scattered throughout the room with nibbles, so I thought it would be a good idea to stand there, along with many others who were enjoying the food. This is where I met a couple of younger professionals. We ended up chatting away, and I got introduced to more professionals through them. Once I talked with one group, I kept meeting more people and having more interesting conversations. It was also great to get involved in the casino games with others, as it gave me an opportunity to connect and build a rapport with the professionals in the room.
I was not expecting any outcome, but it’s always good to practise networking, as it can feel quite awkward at first. I ended up inviting the individuals I made a good connection with to the Howard Kennedy end of Summer Party. Only one young junior professional ended up showing up to our firm party. That one person brought a ‘buddy’; another junior professional from another company with him. I kept in touch with that ‘buddy’ after the party.
The head of my department was aware of the people I met at the Howard Kennedy Summer Party and asked me to approach him (the ‘buddy’) and arrange for a meeting as Howard Kennedy was dealing with a transaction in the very area this person worked in. Both us junior professionals introduced two senior people and facilitated that connection for business.
So I guess, yes, the networking event was successful. No, I did not bring the firm a £1 million pound deal, but I connected a surveying company with the head of our department so they could discuss potential business opportunities. This may or may not lead to something substantial, but this is the nature of networking. You meet people and perhaps you can connect with someone that brings you an opportunity.
You never know who the person you have bonded with is (or knows). The more people you know the better the connected you are. Building foundations now early on in your career is important and valuable, so just go for it and make those connections.
I am currently in the third seat of my training contract and have the pleasure of writing this from my desk located on the second floor of the Hovis head office. I was very eager to go on secondment during my training. To be given the opportunity to do so with a British brand leader is incredibly exciting.
I was initially unsure of what to expect but, with the continuing support of those back in London at Howard Kennedy and a knowledgeable and experienced team here at Hovis, I have made it to month three with only a couple of speed bumps along the way (mainly IT related)!
I had been warned that in-house, you are given a lot of responsibility from day one and this was certainly no exaggeration. This is perhaps due to the fact that you do not share an office with around 240 other fee-earners and are by no means perceived as a trainee- quite daunting!
Being in the broad-spectrum role of trainee legal counsel, I have had a chance to get involved in a huge variety of work. Whilst Hovis has its standard terms and conditions for its supply contracts, purchasers often provide their own set of warranties. As a result, I have had the opportunity to heavily negotiate these documents, making judgments alongside the business as to what is reasonable to accept and which points simply expose the business to unnecessary risk. Whilst legal counsel is not expected to make commercial decisions, advising on the risks and rewards of various contractual provisions means that I am learning first-hand what it means to be commercial.
Other work of note has included drafting and negotiating non-disclosure agreements, IT software contracts and promotion/competition terms and conditions. Everything posted on the Hovis facebook and twitter pages, by the business has to be approved by me from a legal perspective first. The marketing department is keeping me very busy and I am slowly becoming well versed in the UK advertising codes and getting a real instinct for identifying the types of text/images that contain intellectual property rights.
My colleagues at Hovis have a habit of approaching my desk, contract in hand and asking me “if it’s okay to sign”. I am therefore learning to strike a balance between thinking on my feet and being resilient enough to ask for the background and support I need to ensure that I am doing my job to the standard that was expected of me throughout my first year of training with Howard Kennedy.
Experiencing the challenges of everyday business has allowed me to develop an appreciation of the pressures that clients are often faced with. This is naturally going to have an effect on the work carried out by lawyers, both in-house and externally. Gaining an insight into the background and circumstances of a business has influenced how I approach work and the factors that I take into consideration before I start typing an email or drafting a contract. I am developing a first-hand appreciation of commerciality through the unique position of actually being part of the client involved.
So far, I have loved my time in-house and the constant availability of baked goods has been an added bonus! I will be sure to provide you with an update in 2016!
A couture hat designer commissioned to produce a bespoke piece for a high profile event, an accessories designer with a rather risqué concept, a tailor with an original method and an illustrator unperturbed about where their designs might end up. These were the four talented, ambitious and slightly enigmatic students that I had the delight to meet and learn about, but also advise on their intellectual property rights under the supervision of Robert Lands (Head of IP & Commercial) at a recent ‘Own-it’ clinic.
‘Own-it’ provides Intellectual Property (IP) advice to the creative sector. It is run by the University of the Arts, London and costs a nominal admin fee for those who sign up. For the University’s staff, students and recent graduates the service is free. Howard Kennedy is one of the leading law firms which provides 45 minute clinics for face to face advice on IP issues. Some of the students I met were just starting out in their careers whilst others had been working in their industries for years. The clinic is followed up with a detailed note summarising the advice given. It is therefore as much as a learning experience for the trainee solicitor as it is for the attendees who sign up.
The students sent us an overview of their issues and queries about a week in advance so I had some time to research the relevant law. I also had the opportunity to meet with Robert beforehand to make sure I was on the right track and to talk everything through which helped with my confidence as I had no prior knowledge of IP law.
With each student we had at least one IP issue to tackle, as well as a few more general commercial issues. The advice given was therefore on diverse topics ranging from design rights, copyright, brand ownership, and trade mark registration; to partnership agreements, non-disclosure agreements, setting up a company, articles of association, profit sharing, exit strategies, contracts and licences. Many of these issues were mentioned for the first time in the clinics so it was a great opportunity to think on my feet.
Robert let me take the lead with the students at the clinic which I really enjoyed. I had conduct of the interviews but his presence meant I could turn to him for support when I needed to. It was a balance which worked really well. Robert also did his very best to interject when the following pun disasters began to escape from my mouth: ‘It’s important that we tailor this contract to your needs’, ‘You should put a cap on how much they can charge’, ‘The agreement needs to be made to measure’. Although he was an excellent mentor and teacher, he couldn’t do much to remedy my appalling sense of humour.
I would recommend taking part in these clinics to anyone who wants to get a flavour for IP and who also gain insight into other professions. It’s a great opportunity to meet some interesting people doing exciting things and develop key skills for your career.
What better excuse to leave the office early on a Thursday than to head to the London Young Lawyers Group’s charity boat cruise…
A group of 7 trainees (Natasza Slater, Jenny Farringdon, Jessica Smith, Julia Wookey, Claire Levy, Andrew Czechowski and Jon Janes) and 1 NQ (Alexandra Campbell) attended the boat cruise on Thursday 11 June 2015 in the glorious sunshine.
We set off from Tower Hill on the Dutch Master and were taken east along the Thames where we took in the sights from top deck. The dress code was ‘Mad Men – Summers of the 1960s’, clearly none of the ladies forgot to accessorize with their sunglasses!
Not only was this a perfect opportunity to take in the sights of London, enjoy a BBQ dinner and drinks, it was also a great opportunity to network with other junior members of the profession in a friendly environment. Some of the best contacts we make are those fostered when we are entering into the profession; fast forward 10 years and the trainee you met at the boat cruise could be general counsel or another source of future referrals.
The event was a great success and not only did everyone network the night away but we also helped raise hundreds of pounds (from a raffle held on the night) for Gutsy Gastros, a charity dedicated to helping children with life-threatening chronic bowel, intestinal and gastric disorders. Howard Kennedy kindly assisted by providing a hamper as one of the raffle prizes.
If you are interested in becoming a member of LYLG, or attending future events please contact Natazsa Slater, who is on the committee.