Chadwick Nott sat down with an Associate at Dentons to talk about her career move during the pandemic. Kelly Pledger worked with Kate Sinclair, Senior Associate at Chadwick Nott, to find her dream job. We asked for her insight into the recruitment process, interviewing during the pandemic, and joining the firm when pregnant.
Can you please walk me through your legal career?
Before and during the first couple of years of university, I wanted to go to the Bar. At the time, being self-employed, advocating, and working in very high-pressured situations really appealed to me. During university, I got involved with the Law School's two pro-bono set-ups and really enjoyed the direct contact with people and being the first port of call for individuals in need. I moved towards seeking a team environment and a role which would provide the opportunity to explore cases and work through the issues at hand over time.
Back then, I had no desire to work in the corporate world but the only firms to visit my university were those with a commercial client base - Magic Circle, Silver Circle, large internationals, US firms etc. I wasn't really aware of the different types of practices, despite having sought various stints of work experience in high street firms which, ultimately, hadn't drawn me in either. In fact, my first week in a firm was so dull that I swore I'd never work in an office!
I then came across a regional firm close to my home in Shropshire, which had an excellent reputation for Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence - these were areas of practice I was particularly interested in at the time. To me, this seemed to hit the sweet spot – it served the locality, I was afforded the chance to work with individuals, and the firm were big enough to be experts in their fields. I worked as a paralegal in a large insurance firm before joining this regional firm to undertake my training contract.
During my training contract, my first two seats were Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence, respectively, as I had hoped for. Whilst there were elements of both areas of practice that I enjoyed, and the cases were of huge importance to those involved, I found that they didn't really do it for me. My third seat was split Private Client / Court of Protection, which ended up being almost entirely the latter, and the less said about it, the better! By this point I was genuinely concerned that I wouldn't find the right area of practice for me. I was acutely aware I was a litigator and so I asked to do my fourth seat in the Dispute Resolution team.
Within 3 days, I realised it was exactly what I had wanted since deciding to pursue a career in law. The things that really appealed to me were the broad range of clients; the varied causes of action; and the fact that the lawyer was frequently the expert (because the strength of a case came down to matters of law) rather than an independent expert witness. Due to the size of the firm, the clients were a mix of individuals and businesses, and it was the latter I most enjoyed working for and building relationships with.
As I approached the end of my training contract, I sought a NQ Dispute Resolution / Commercial Litigation position but there were very few on offer in my location. One nugget of advice was to obtain court experience and so, when I was unable to immediately secure a role I took a temporary contract with a social landlord, working in-house as a litigator. I really enjoyed my time there but the work wasn't varied enough for me and my heart was in private practice.
In turn, I secured a job in Commercial Litigation with a local large high street / small regional firm. I very much enjoyed the breadth of cases and clients, built relationships quickly, and thrived on managing my own varied caseload.
From there, I moved to Dentons, the largest law firm in the world where I am now part of a good-sized team and support colleagues across numerous offices. The work is extremely varied, high value and complex, and I love it! The people around me are genuinely incredible lawyers, with so much experience, but they are also always approachable and supportive. I really could not have asked for more.
What made you decide to move to a new firm?
I felt I had gained as much as I could from my previous firm. I wanted to learn more and be a better lawyer and felt I needed a bigger and more established outfit to help me progress. I wanted to work with true experts, on large and interesting cases, with the opportunity to learn from those around me. And that is exactly what I have now.
Why did you work with a recruitment agency?
In short, because of Kate. I met Kate at an event during my training contract, put on by Chadwick Nott for trainees in my area in 2018. Upon meeting Kate, I immediately trusted her and could see the integrity she had. I believed that, due to her character, she really would have those relationships with firms that many recruiters claim to have (but seemingly don't!) and that she would be respectful of her candidates.
We stayed in touch. She listened to me and I felt she really understood my journey, where I was at, and where I wanted to go. I trusted her to be selective with positions she proposed to me, honest about my chances, and represent me in the way I wanted to be represented. She is extremely personable and ever the professional.
With regard to the position I'm now in, I would never have dreamed of applying without Kate's encouragement. It is down to her knowledge of the market, relationship with my firm and understanding of me that I am where I am, and I'm so grateful.
How was your experience using Chadwick Nott?
Genuinely enjoyable! Making a career move is a huge life step and having like-minded people working with you on that journey makes all the difference. I found that I received a personal service from Chadwick Nott from the off and, for example, was never bombarded with seemingly generic emails and calls, as was my experience with numerous other recruitment agencies who continue to be a nuisance years after obtaining my contact details!
I'm an extremely loyal person and I always very much appreciated that Chadwick Nott came out into ‘the sticks’ to put on that event for trainees years ago – they were the only agency to do so. Chadwick Nott's approach has always been very different to that of other recruitment agencies and that has stayed with me.
Kate actually referred me to a colleague within the agency because they had a particular remote working role she thought might be of interest. That resulted in a lovely period of working with both ladies and as the interviews came in, I had support from both of them. I could see the great working relationship they had which was testament to them as people, as well as Chadwick Nott.
How did you find securing a job during a pandemic?
Quite different to pre-Covid times. Firstly, the idea of remote working became far more prevalent which meant that roles that were previously off the cards suddenly became an option.
Logistically, it was also great because I was able to interview during my lunch breaks or immediately before / after work, due to not having a commute. This was far better than having to take annual leave!
I think another great thing was the "power" the whole situation gave to employees. The idea of personal lives, and jobs working around individuals really grew. To me, it seemed firms were forced to make more of an effort to mould to candidates and therefore candidates could give more consideration to whether the role and firm were right for them. Ultimately, I think it will lead to people being much happier in their jobs and hopefully staying in situ for longer. Saying that, it will require firms to continue making an effort to ensure they truly care about the welfare of their employees, rather than simply saying it, and remember the lessons from Covid.
I would suggest that firms will need to go further now. The option to work from home is now expected so offering this alone won't set one firm apart from another. Things like annual, maternity / paternity, and sick leave policies are going to be where firms can stand out - those things are, after all, what really make a difference in people's lives.
You have been at your firm 6 months now, how has it been?
In a word: fantastic. I love it. LOVE it. I'm getting everything I wanted - a great team environment, really interesting work, brilliant clients etc. It's great in every way. The hours have increased compared to where I was, but so have the rewards. Like most lawyers, I enjoy hard work and those late nights / early mornings have been genuinely fun.
Quite unusually, I started my job 6 months pregnant. I only found out I was pregnant around the time I was offered the role and telling my future employer about my circumstances was scary to say the least. I was so worried that the role would be pulled (let's face it, whilst it's illegal to discriminate against pregnant women, there are ways and means to go about it "legitimately"). The firm, however, was brilliant.
HR took me under their wing and explained how everything would work; my team, despite barely knowing me, were so supportive even before I joined (I had huge congratulations from my boss-to-be and he arranged a call with a senior associate who was the most recent returned from mat leave). Upon starting the job, I was given the freedom to get involved just as if I wasn't pregnant but, by the same token, afforded time when I needed it for personal appointments without any guilt. Everyone was very sympathetic with the work they sent my way - it was all judged perfectly so that I had the opportunity to show a little bit of what I could do, as well as display my work ethic, but no one got me so involved that I felt dragged down by the time I was trying to tie things up ahead of my mat leave.
What do you find the benefits are of hybrid working and do you feel this has helped or hindered you with settling into your new firm?
There are so many benefits, I'm sure I'll miss plenty, plus I feel I'm yet to fully appreciate just how useful hybrid working can be...
There are the obvious positives: the job market has opened up because candidates are no longer tied to firms within reasonable travelling distance; time previously spent travelling is no longer wasted - this has been great in enabling me to work longer hours without finishing later, sleep in for longer (also only having to be Teams ready, rather than office ready), start my free time sooner etc; I've saved money not travelling as often; there has been greater flexibility with when work hours are done - let's face it, provided you are available when you need to be and you record your 7 hours of chargeable time per day, is it imperative that you are sat at your desk 9-5?
The more personal benefits have been: I didn't need to take any annual leave whilst work was going on at my house - I unlocked the house in the morning and the workmen (yes, they were all men) could come and go as they pleased without me needing to be around to let them in; I was able to prepare dinner during my lunch break, saving me time later on, which I used to go for walks with my husband (we both lost a lot of weight from eating healthier and getting more exercise as a result of the gained time / working from home); I can also see that when I return to work after my maternity leave, the flexibility hybrid working offers will allow me to complete a full day around dropping my son off and picking him up from his childminder.
As for settling in…I had 12 weeks working prior to mat leave, I didn't once step foot in the office, yet I have already made friends with my team and I've heard from numerous people since my last day. I do think it takes some effort from the newbie to call colleagues and introduce oneself, but I'm not the sort of person to shy away and, indeed, I'm quite proactive in trying to simulate the office environment remotely.
Would you have considered a job in Milton Keynes without hybrid working being offered?
Quite simply, no. I'm settled where I live and have no desire to move - commuting daily to an office 100 miles away would not have been a consideration.
Do you have any tips for being interviewed on Teams / Zoom for people going through this now?
- Have a drink of water to hand so you can take a sip whilst figuring out how to answer a question, without there being an awkward silence - people can see you're drinking so it's not weird!
- Find an outfit that looks smart enough on camera but is comfortable (though still makes you feel professional / interview ready).
- Check beforehand how you appear on camera. It might sound vain, but we all perform better when we feel better about ourselves so ensure you have your best side (quite literally) on show.
- Smile and talk as you would if you were face to face with someone - obviously don't go overboard with hand gestures but do move around enough to show you are human and not a robot.
- Have something interesting in the background - it's a great ice breaker, affords you the opportunity to show something personal about yourself, and gives interviewers something to remember you by. I interviewed from my husband's office with numerous guitars hanging in the background, which did not once go without comment!
Kate Sinclair has over 20 years’ experience recruiting solicitors into the Birmingham, West Midlands, East Midlands, Milton Keynes, Northern Home Counties and Cambridge markets. Kate has a huge wealth of knowledge and expertise to assist all solicitors from NQs to Partners.
Phone: 0121 200 5578
Mobile: 07921 001235