Welcome to the newest instalment of our ‘What I know now’ series on the Brooke Thornham NQ blog. Each month, we speak to a qualified legal professional about their career journey: what set them on the path to becoming a solicitor, and the steps they took to achieving that goal, as well as exploring their personal experience of working in the legal sector (ups, downs, and everything in between).
Today’s ‘What I know now’ blog comes from Dina Wenmouth, associate in the Practice Governance and Risk team at DAC Beachcroft LLP. Dina qualified in 2010 after completing her training at Jersey firm Ogier, where she stayed for a year and a half before moving on to an NQ role at Bedell Cristin.
Read on to learn more about Dina’s debating background, her strong belief in the importance of mentoring, and what happened when she fell asleep in the office back in her NQ days…
Hi, Dina. First things first: why did you decide to train as a solicitor?
I had always been interested in politics and debate in school, having participated in the Model United Nations as a student, so going into law seemed a logical choice. Constructing arguments, research and analysis/interpretation of case law and legislation seemed a natural fit. Those that know me well would also joke that the argumentative side of my personality suited my career choice.
How well did your experience as a trainee solicitor prepare you for becoming qualified?
The variety of the seats I experienced as a trainee definitely equipped me for life as a qualified solicitor. I was very fortunate to have trained at a fantastic firm (Ogier in Jersey), which offered trainees a lot of responsibility and extensive mentoring.
Though my first year of qualification was a steep learning curve, I felt able to handle it and learn and develop more, thanks to the great foundation I had received during my training contract.
Describe your training partner in 3 words.
I didn’t really have a single training partner – trainees had supervising partners for each seat. The partner who supervised me for 9 months of my training contract (and was ultimately the partner whose team I qualified into) was approachable, supportive and knowledgeable.
What was the biggest difference for you when you were admitted and took a full solicitor role?
I was given a great deal more responsibility as an NQ. My partner had supervised and mentored me for 9 months of my training contract, so I suppose he knew how much I could handle. The variety and volume of work increased, as did my knowledge and experience. It felt good to belong to a team rather than looking at a department as somewhere I would only be spending 3/6/9 months.
What were the factors behind you choosing the area of law that you specialise in?
I started off as a banking restructuring and insolvency solicitor, but knew I wanted to be a litigator. After about a year post qualification, I decided it was time to switch to contentious work. I thought it would also be better to do so at a new firm as a fresh start, and moved to Bedell Cristin in Jersey.
While working at Bedell Cristin I had the opportunity to work on some complex and challenging cases and was afforded a great variety of work. I enjoyed the fact that no case is ever the same. As a commercial litigator you’re constantly learning and researching new areas and the subject of the disputes. For instance, I had cases dealing with hedge funds, trusts, banks, there were insolvency cases with real estate portfolios. For each of those cases you had to think differently, learn about your client’s business and needs, and the tactics and strategy involved in each also changed significantly. No day was the same.
A big bonus for me was how collaborative the team was – the partners were friendly and supportive, and operated a genuine open-door policy. You never felt like you were working for them – more like you were working with them as part of the same team. It encouraged you to participate and contribute.
After a few years in Jersey I decided to move to Leeds, as I had met my husband and was relocating here, and after a couple of different roles in Leeds as a commercial litigator, I decided to look for something different.
While in those roles, I had become more and more interested in other aspects of my role as a solicitor; specifically, the impact of advances in technology and AI on the legal industry, and the ways in which firms could work more efficiently. I was also becoming more interested in knowledge management, and the complex risk and compliance matters that were always a significant factor in the work we do as regulated professionals.
I am now an associate in the Professional Governance and Risk team at DAC Beachcroft and very much enjoying the variety and diversity this role brings. In a lot of ways, it is similar to my previous roles as a litigator in that it requires flexibility, being calm under pressure and being able to deal with a variety of tasks and responsibilities.
Compared to your own experience, how similar or different do you perceive the challenges facing NQs in 2018 to be?
I think the competition to secure training contracts and NQ roles continues to be quite difficult, and the current focus on process efficiencies and technological advances will impact the nature of the roles NQs have before them.
My first bit of paginating was done by hand. My first disclosure review was in hard copy in a client’s office surrounded by boxes as a trainee. Now you have e-disclosure providers and sophisticated platforms offering lots of innovative solutions which NQs will have to become familiar with. This is also true of similar innovations in other practice areas.
What piece of practical advice would you give to someone who is at the start of their legal career?
Make sure you get the right NQ role and pick a firm that’s the right cultural fit for you – it’s important to be with likeminded people. If you’re not overly corporate and don’t like being somewhere incredibly hierarchical and formal, don’t go for a firm like that.
Think long and hard about what type of work you want to do – don’t accept any NQ role offered, and make sure you find a team that will support you and help you learn and develop as a solicitor.
With hindsight what do you wish you had known when you were NQ?
That you will continue learning new things throughout your career, so don’t worry about not knowing it all straight away!
If you were to recruit a lawyer at NQ level to work closely with you, what would be the most important thing you’d look for?
Someone who is driven, with a strong work ethic, and who is willing to ask questions and learn. Everyone continues to learn throughout their careers, and some NQs I have worked with in the past at various firms feel that they are expected to know it all and so won’t ask questions or for help. That’s just not true.
What is the strangest experience you’ve had in an interview, and how did you handle it?
I once had an interviewer, a partner at the firm, say to me at the start of an interview “Well, we definitely want you – but I’m not sure why you would want us!” I had thought this was an interview tactic to try to find out what I knew about the role and the firm, and so that I could explain why I wanted to work there. In hindsight, I should have questioned that comment further, as I would have realised far more quickly that we were not a good fit for each other.
What is your best interview tip?
Take a breath and ask considered questions – it makes the interview more conversational and gives you a break while your interviewer(s) are responding to your questions.
To date what is your ‘career highlight’?
Acting on a hedge fund dispute – my last case in Jersey – on a novel area of law. It was a very intense time, but the case was fascinating, and I really enjoyed the team I worked with on the case.
What is the funniest thing that has happened to you at work?
As an NQ, I was in the midst of an all-nighter at work on a completion. I was waiting for a call and the next turn of the documents, and had started drifting off (it was around 4 am at this point and I thought I was alone in the office!).
We had just moved into new offices, and the lights were all motion activated. I didn’t know there was a security guard in the office, and was startled by him at my office door as he was carrying out a check and fell off my chair… It was not my most graceful moment.
What would you change about the legal profession?
I think flexible/agile working is still not as popular and accepted across most firms. Having the ability to log on from home, and working from home occasionally, is a great benefit and helps the work/life balance.
Besides being a lawyer, if money were no object and you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you most like to try or do?
Open a restaurant – I love to cook and entertain!
Summarise your experience of legal recruiters in 5 words or less.
The good: supportive, understanding and actually listen to what you’re after
The bad: pushy, insensitive and don’t think of how suitable you are to the roles they’re sending you and vice versa
Thanks for talking to us, Dina (and, to be honest, we can’t say we’ve never fallen asleep at the office either..!)