In this blog, four trainees from Curzon Green give their perspective on what it is like to be a trainee at Curzon Green (and its certainly not just about photocopying!)
Jessie Mark – Dispute Resolution, Family & Employment teams
What matters are you working on currently?
One of my primary cases is a probate matter in which an executor is unable to administer an estate due to a potential challenge to the will. This has been really interesting as we have been involved since the first hint of a dispute between the parties and issues regarding capacity and undue influence have been alleged.
We are now looking to issue an application which will require the challenger to bring a formal challenge within a certain time frame. If he does not do so, the executor can distribute the will without fear of personal liability.
Another substantial case I am assisting with is a claim for uninsured losses and damages arising from personal injury, following a gas explosion at an individual’s home. The claim involves several parties including the home insurer, the neighbours and multiple possible Defendants.
There are a lot of different aspects to the claim, and it has been particularly rewarding work given the potential award to the Claimants which could make a real difference to their lives following the accident.
What is the toughest and most challenging aspect of the job?
For me, the toughest part of the job has been keeping up with the amount of information and knowledge that you need to do the job well. After leaving university with around 4 years of legal learning, you assume that you would have most of the required skills and knowledge to do the job. However, every day something new comes up, whether that be an application that you have never encountered before, a niche enquiry that you haven’t dealt with previously, or needing to draft an unusual document or letter from scratch.
This is challenging, and you might have to spend significant time reading up on the right approach and the relevant legislation. Other days, there may not be a “right answer” that can be found in research, and you have to make a tactical decision based on yours and your department’s collective experience and consideration of your client’s expectations.
That being said, this is what also makes it one of the more exciting aspects of the job – you are constantly learning (despite what you might feel!). The matters that seem daunting one day, become a piece of specialist knowledge that you can use in the future, which others may not have experienced.
Each of these challenges also strengthens your ability to deal with the adverse or unusual – you may not know the answer to everything, but wielding experience and the knowledge of where to look for the answers (as well as a bit of gut and intuition) makes each challenge more manageable.
I have had the opportunity to work on numerous cases over the past few months where the outcome is of such importance to individual lives. One that stands out to me is a compelling human rights case, whereby a young woman was bought to the UK as a child, by her mother. She was left without papers and subjected to abuse and the consequences of the hostile environment. She had been refused permission to remain in the UK multiple times and the Home Office was suggesting that she returned to a country where she had no ties or support.
With the assistance of my supervisor, I prepared complex Article 8 and Article 3 arguments to make an application for leave to remain in the UK. After a catalogue of Home Office errors, we then challenged the Home Office using their complaints process, local government offices, the First-Tier Tribunal, pre-action judicial review stage and liaised with barristers to secure further pro-bono support for the client.
I maintained close contact with the client throughout the process and successfully established an important and supportive relationship throughout.
I am delighted that the Home Office has now rescinded their refusal and granted our client permission to continue her well-established life in the UK. My determination to succeed with this case has exposed me to a range of powerful legal tools that will be useful in my future work. I have been part of a process that never would have been possible without using complex legal instruments to secure justice for a vulnerable person.
What is the office atmosphere like?
The office environment is friendly and sociable. It is divided into rooms of three to six people, which means you have a quiet working space to focus, but experienced solicitors around to ask questions to. Everyone is highly motivated and always willing to go the extra mile to get justice for our clients.
From my experience, everyone from partners to trainee solicitors are willing to help when you need it and guide you on how you can improve. My colleagues are driven and supportive. We also have a great deal of contact day to day with everyone in the firm from fellow trainees to partners.
What activities are you involved in beyond your work at the firm?
I co-founded a non-governmental organisation, Samos Volunteers, in Greece in 2016. We saw there was a huge need for helpers on the ground as more and more people fled war and persecution and made the treacherous journey across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to reach Europe.
Samos Volunteers is made up of a team of 50+ volunteers from all over the world and provides emergency, psycho-social and legal support to asylum seekers and refugees on the island.
As a member of the board, I still have an active role in facilitating the operations of the group. Since arriving back in the UK, I’ve been able to continue to support Samos Volunteers through fundraising and speaking about the refugee crisis and migration at a variety of events.
My colleagues at Curzon Green have been extremely supportive – attending fundraising events and donating where they can – especially when I went back out to Greece last year.
Victoria Simon – Dispute Resolution & Employment Teams
How much interaction do you have with clients and who do you work with on a day-to-day basis?
At Curzon Green, we interact with clients daily and we are encouraged to do so from early on in our training. For me, this has been a beneficial and important aspect of my training as it has allowed me to develop my interviewing and advising skills with clients from the very start of my training.
We work with associate solicitors and partners at the firm daily; there is a great deal of support within the firm, but we are also encouraged to use our own initiative and speak to clients ourselves to build individual relationships.
I am currently working on several files with different supervising solicitors, which has allowed me to gain exposure to various areas of law and to experience different styles of working. Our supervisors are always happy to answer any questions or queries that we may have.
What matters are you working on currently?
In Dispute Resolution, I am currently working on several matters such as personal injury claims, debt recovery, a construction dispute, a fatal accident act claim and a property possession claim. Working in this team regularly involves drafting statements of case, corresponding with the Court, liaising with Counsel and negotiating with the other side. I have also undertaken advocacy to represent our clients in Court and have secured a Final Charging Order in a contested hearing for our client.
This month I successfully represented a landlord at a possession order hearing and made submissions on her behalf to secure a Possession Order. The tenant was ordered to vacate the property within 7 days, to repay the full amount of the accrued rent arrears in excess of £5,000 plus interest and to repay our clients legal costs of bringing the proceedings.
Regarding employment matters, I regularly assist with settlement agreement matters and negotiating exits from companies for employees. For instance, a recent client had worked for a company for 19 years and the company attempted to unilaterally alter his role, which would effectively result in a demotion and thus a breach of contract.
We assisted by raising a grievance and engaged in without prejudice communications with the company to negotiate a beneficial settlement agreement for our client, despite some hostility from the employer.
In addition to representing employees, we also regularly act for employers and I am currently involved in defending an Employment Tribunal claim of unfair dismissal brought by their former employee.
Our client is defending the claim on the basis that the reason for the dismissal was fair and the dismissal was due to acts of gross misconduct and illegality. I prepared the ET3 Response Form and liaised with Counsel regarding the Grounds of Resistance and we anticipate the next steps now will be to start preparations for a Preliminary Hearing.
Uzair Zafar – Dispute Resolution & Employment Teams
What matters are you working on currently?
Within the dispute resolution team, I am assisting on several interesting cases including a contentious professional negligence claim and a historic clinical negligence case. I am currently working on a complex breach of contract claim against a firm of solicitors, involving allegations of fraud and forgery.
We have recently been through the exercise of disclosure, which has been extremely challenging given the sheer number of documents involved but also invaluable for me to be involved in as a trainee. I had hands-on experience in preparing the disclosure documents, drafting statements of case, liaising with the other side, proposing tactical or strategic next steps and most importantly getting to grips with our office printer (a necessity for all trainees!).
I am lucky enough to assist in a wide range of matters including business disputes, landlord and tenant disputes, possession claims and defamation claims. I am also currently assisting in several high-value constructions disputes, whereby I have prepared several key applications to the Court, witness statements and assisted in settlement negotiations.
Within the employment team, I am currently assisting on several matters, including litigating equal pay and discrimination claims in the financial sector, advising a city start-up in relation to disciplinary procedures, advising a well-known recruitment company on all aspects of an ET claim, as well as guiding employees through settlement agreements and negotiations.
I have had hands-on experience in assisting with a race discrimination claim against a well-known recruitment agency, as well as in the preparation of an ET3 and Grounds of Response for claims of equal pay and unfair dismissal. My work has involved drafting, liaising with clients, counsel and the Tribunals, attending the ET and EAT, and attending conferences with Counsel.
Do you feel challenged by the work you are doing?
Without sounding too cliché – definitely. The work we do on a day-to-day basis is extremely varied and each claim has its nuances. In dispute resolution, most of the claims we deal with tend to be fast-paced and deciding which route to go down tactically is important and something that is quite often put to us as trainees. Whilst it may be daunting, and at times intellectually challenging, being asked for my thoughts on how to progress a file has been a key part of my development as a trainee
The high level of exposure to key files is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job for me and being on hand to learn and take a pragmatic or commercial approach to any issue which arises. One file I assisted on, for example, involved the team drawing up a unique (and unheard of) deed of authority as part of an urgent application to the Tribunal. This creative approach worked, and our deed was accepted.
We also have a great deal of responsibility over our own work. This is both challenging and immensely rewarding. Since starting my training contract, I have been tasked with drafting key statements of case, pleadings, witness statements, and letters. The ability to adapt to the task at hand and remain disciplined has been imperative and is something I am still getting to grips with. When I began my training contract, I would often spend immense amounts of time researching the best way to approach new areas of law, in the hope that everything I drafted would be perfect.
The biggest lesson I have learned is that there are always improvements that can be made whilst you are learning. Taking on board constructive feedback and ensuring you are improving is key to developing as a trainee. This is something, I believe, that can only come from hands-on experience, something which we are given at Curzon Green.
Having a high level of responsibility results in personal pride in the work I produce and has helped me grow as a trainee. I aim to be the best I can possibly be and am extremely lucky to learn from solicitors, in both litigation and employment, with a wealth of experience and to be able to build strong rapport with the firm’s clients.
Whilst I did not walk into my training contract the finished product by any means, I am confident I will be finishing my training contract in a much stronger position, (hopefully) equipped with an in-depth understanding of not only the law, but the ability to engage clients and an even greater daily coffee tolerance!
What additional in-house training do you receive?
Trainees at Curzon Green are not short of options in respect of training opportunities. Being actively involved in meetings means that we can take initiative and propose any training sessions/ seminars we may be interested in or have spotted in a newsletter or chambers advertisement.
More recently, the employment team attended a webinar together considering the potential impact of recent case law on restrictive covenants in employment contracts. The employment team regularly hosts seminars for HR professionals and recruitment companies, advising on key considerations and updates in the law, such as restrictive covenants, IR35 and GDPR and SAR compliance requirements.
Trainees are encouraged to take part, and it is an invaluable opportunity to gain an understanding of key considerations facing our clients, as well as new and complex areas of the law. It is also a fantastic opportunity to network with existing and prospective clients. I am excited to be assisting at our upcoming seminar next month, tackling the GDPR, IR35 and harassment.
Trainees are often also encouraged to attend networking events (free canapes and drinks aren’t the worst things after a day in the office) and talks at Chambers. I recently attended an insightful employment law talk at Littleton chambers, which was extremely helpful for two of the discrimination/ equal pay cases I am currently assisting with.