November 27, 2023
Pursuing a career as a solicitor is filled with challenges, growth as well as unexpected opportunities. In this article, we hear from Naji Tilley, a trainee solicitor at Bird & Bird, to gain a candid perspective on his journey into law and the obstacles that he overcame along the way. Naji shares some insights on the interesting cases he’s worked on and the importance of commercial awareness in the training contract process.

Why did you apply to Bird & Bird? Is it what you expected?

The firm sells itself as doing some of the most uniquely interesting legal work in some of the coolest sectors out there. From my intention to pursue first-tier IP (Intellectual Property) litigation work, to my unnatural obsession with football being brought to legal life in my sports regulatory seat, the work I’ve carried out has completely surpassed my expectations. 

I applied to the firm out of a desire to become a more well-rounded lawyer, acquiring practice area expertise in a multi-sectoral way.  Just past one year later, and I can say I’m getting exactly what I wanted out of my training.

What has been the most interesting case or task you have worked on?

I recently had the opportunity to work on highly significant musical copyright litigation in what is completely uncharted legal territory. I’ve been asked not just to research points of law, but to then perform the extra ‘step’ of applying my answer in brand new scenarios on which the courts are yet to have pronounced.

This is emblematic of the firm’s expertise – we often find ourselves reverting to first principles to determine how the law applies to the new commercial situations presented to us by our clients. 

And if that work is served up to you as a trainee, that is a pretty unique offering.


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Did you overcome any obstacles during your route to law?

The key obstacles for me were time and self-doubt – it took me six years of trying in order to secure a training contract. Seeing others’ successes through my multiple courses of rejection hurt at first, but I used every rejection as a positive, to put down whatever ego I had and the excuses that led me to conjure up for myself, and to be ruthlessly honest with myself about how best to improve. 

I waited a very long time before what seemed to be that elusive training contract offer came along – but I used that time to optimise my chances of getting one.

I obtained a generalist LLM (a step you absolutely do not need to take to boost your chances), which helped to further inform my decisions on what areas of law, and in turn what firms, I was interested in pursuing. I then spent three years as an Assistant Editor in the Dispute Resolution team at Practical Law, writing quality legal content and know-how for lawyers, which markedly improved my core legal skills, such as drafting and communication.

If you could go back to before you secured a training contract, what advice would you give yourself?

That “commercial awareness” should not be conflated with “commercial knowledge”. 

Firms aren’t looking for expertise in the areas of commercial law you wish to apply to. They’re looking for people who have the potential to be trained to develop that expertise. 

So, follow a handful of the firm’s recent cases/deals of genuine interest to you, rather than focusing on absolutely everything it does or absolutely everything in the business press. Ultimately, commercial awareness is a marathon, not a sprint – do a little every day, rather than cramming everything at the eleventh hour.

For more information on legal training opportunities and events, check out Bird & Bird’s Early Careers page.


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