Welcome to the first of our 2023 – Trainee Insight interviews with our current Teacher Stern trainees! In these insights, we will hear first-hand experiences and give you a real flavour of what life is like as a trainee with us.
If you are interested in applying for a training contract with Teacher Stern then we recommended you apply for our Vacation Scheme Programme. Participation on the programme will not only give you the opportunity to come and meet us in person, but it will enable you to get an inside look at what it would be like to train and work at Teacher Stern.
Name: Dan McCartney
Previous seats: Property Litigation and Property
Current seat: Employment and Immigration
What can you expect as a trainee at Teacher Stern?
I remember being told during my training contract interview that trainees are expected to “roll their sleeves up and get stuck in” at Teacher Stern. This has absolutely proven to be the case and I think it is a real advantage of training here. From your first week at the firm, you are expected to function as an integral part of the team, whichever department you are in. You are immediately responsible for the tasks allocated to you and there is a real sense that your colleagues are relying on you to fulfil your role and produce high quality work.
That said, you are not expected to be the ‘finished product’ during your training contract, and so whilst you are given real responsibility early on as a Teacher Stern trainee, you can always ask colleagues for guidance. The firm is full of bright and experienced lawyers who are always willing to help.
What work do you get involved in on a day-to-day basis in your current seat?
As I am currently in the Employment and Immigration department, my workload is split between two quite distinct areas of law. From an Employment perspective, my day-to-day tasks range from reviewing and drafting settlement agreements relating to the termination of an employee’s employment, which are often mutually agreed terminations, with a focus on negotiating commercial points such as the operation of any post-termination restrictive covenants, through to more contentious work, such as responding to and/or issuing wrongful and unfair dismissal claims.
In relation to Immigration, as a firm we act on behalf of a wide variety of UK-based companies that sponsor overseas workers to come to the UK under the skilled worker visa route. As a trainee, I am therefore involved in each stage of the visa application process, from drafting our initial letters to the sponsoring company and skilled worker explaining the application process, through to preparing and submitting the applications, processing payment of the relevant fees, and dealing with any post-submission queries that may arise. For example, there are various right-to-work checks which must be carried out by the employer once the employee has commenced their employment in the UK, so we provide both the employee and employer with a closing advice letter setting out detailed guidance on this, and as a trainee I am often tasked with preparing this closing letter.
What have you enjoyed the most so far during your training contract?
One particular highlight was being asked to research and report on the Register of Overseas Entities. In summary, the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 introduced a Register of Overseas Entities requiring overseas entities that own UK property to register with Companies House. This was a significant change to the legal framework regulating ownership of UK property, and as it coincided with my Property seat, I was asked to research and report on the new rules, both internally and to those clients who would be affected by the registration requirements.
This is a prime example of what distinguishes Teacher Stern from other firms, as whilst most firms reported on the new Register, they did so via a team of associates and senior associates, whereas I was given sole responsibility for the task. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to develop my legal research skills and it demonstrates the level of responsibility given to trainees at Teacher Stern.
Have you encountered any challenges?
Yes, and each seat has brought its own challenges. As a Litigation trainee, you need to be on top of your diary. At any given time, there will be various upcoming Court deadlines and if you are involved with a case, the onus is on you to be ready for those deadlines. This means time management and organisational skills are essential. In contrast, when sat with a transactional department, such as Property or Corporate, the challenges faced are often more commercially driven and require you to be ready to adjust to changing timescales and deadlines. For example, during my Property seat I worked on a transaction involving a linked sale and purchase which appeared to be at an end due to the initial sale falling through, but a last-minute purchaser was found, and this meant that we were required to draft the contractual documentation under very tight time constraints.
However, aside from seat-specific challenges, the size and ethos of the firm is such that you are expected to be flexible and available to assist with a deal, case (etc.) at any time, even if it is not a matter you have been involved with. For example, the firm was recently involved with a large property transaction and as trainees, we were all asked to assist with the final tasks which needed to be dealt with prior to completion, even if we were not sat in the Property department. This meant managing our time and workloads to ensure the pre-completion property tasks were dealt with, but that we did not neglect our existing responsibilities.
What advice would you give new applicants?
Research the firm well and be ready to explain why you want to work for Teacher Stern. This goes above and beyond highlighting the firm’s key practice areas and explaining why you have enjoyed your legal studies to date. You need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of the type of work the firm does and engage with the commercial realities facing our clients. If the Government has increased the SDLT threshold, or if the Bank of England has raised interest rates, these are all factors which influence the commercial landscape in which our clients operate. As an applicant, it will impress if you can demonstrate that you understand this.
I would also advise any new applicants to revise their CV and be prepared to talk about themselves and their interests. In my experience, everyone at the firm shows a genuine interest in who you are and what makes you tick, so be ready to talk about yourself and to explain why your interests make you well suited to the firm.
Otherwise, be confident and willing to get involved – enthusiasm goes a long way.
How did your experience of the vacation scheme give you an insight into working at Teacher Stern and within a law firm?
Taking part in the vacation scheme provided me with an invaluable insight into life at Teacher Stern. As you spend the week sitting with one of the departments, you are given the opportunity to experience the reality of day-to-day life at the firm, both in respect of the work undertaken and the pace at which the work is carried out. You will be asked to assist with live transactions that are ongoing during your time with the firm, so the work you carry out is tangible and real – it is not simply a made-up scenario.
However, having said that, during the vacation scheme you are also asked to take part in various fictional scenarios which are designed to replicate the kind of challenges and tasks you will face as a lawyer at Teacher Stern. These tasks are also used to see how you perform under pressure, and whilst they were difficult, I found them incredibly beneficial, as they reinforced my own belief in my ability to thrive in a legal environment.
Lastly, the vacation scheme also provided me with the opportunity to meet and socialise with various people in the firm, ranging from paralegals through to partners. Everyone I spoke with was more than happy to answer any questions I had about to the firm and life at Teacher Stern generally.
What are the key benefits of doing a trainee scheme?
The principal benefit is undoubtedly exposure to different practice areas across the firm. This provides you with the opportunity to learn about different areas of law and develop the particular skills required in each department. For example, as a trainee in Litigation, it is likely that you will spend a lot of time drafting various documents, such as letters and statements of case, whereas in Property you will be asked to review searches and title deeds to a property, highlighting any issues which may affect the client’s future plans – these tasks require different skillsets, but they all contribute to making you a better, well-rounded lawyer.
Another key advantage of participating in the training contract is the opportunity to meet different people across the firm. As a trainee, you learn by osmosis, and in a working environment like that which exists at Teacher Stern, where trainees work closely with partners and senior associates who are experts in their field, the scope for learning is unparalleled.
Lastly (but not least), everyone is incredibly welcoming and friendly and there are lots of social events to attend throughout the training contract. To this end, the firm also has a social committee and they are always looking for trainees to join and get involved!
Describe your time so far in three words
Challenging, varied and rewarding.