Mason Hayes Solicitors

Archive for the ‘Trainee Blog’ Category

Letter Drafting

Monday, February 1st, 2016

I think that one of the most valuable things that you learn when you start your training contract is letter writing skills.  This is something that you will think you are already able to do like I did when I first started.  However, I remember during my LPC I was informed by tutors that many firms had contacted law schools to complain about the low level of letter writing skills that trainees possessed when they were starting at firms.  As part of the LPC we therefore had to do a short module on letter writing skills.  Whilst this was useful to a certain extent, like anything else, you cannot truly appreciate and develop the necessary skills involved until you put them into practice.

When I first started and was dealing with simpler matters, the letters I drafted were quite straight forward and, more often than not, there would be a good precedent you could use to steer the way.  However, when I had to draft a letter, everything was questioned from my sentence structure to my grammar (which I must admit I found difficult to take at first!).

However, as I have progressed on to working on more complex matters, my letter writing skills have developed and I now feel more confident in drafting lengthier strategic letters.  Further, my grammar is (thankfully!) very rarely questioned these days.  This is something that comes with time and experience it is important to remember that there is always room for improvement.  My next big step is to draft a lengthy Letter of Claim on a fast track matter which is a thought that fills me with a certain amount of dread.

I suppose one of the top tips I can give is not to rely on a precedent blindly and hope that this will suffice.  If it were that easy then we would not need lawyers in the first place!  Of course building up a precedent bank is essential but you must always consider the content of the precedent and what is and is not relevant to the matter at hand.  Don’t be afraid to add points in if you think they are relevant as it may be that you think of something to strengthen your client’s case that has not previously been thought of.

As a trainee solicitor you have already passed some quite heavy exams and it is hoped therefore that your writing skills are already of a high standard.  I think the main challenge is ensuring that you fit into the firm’s style and to take all criticism as constructive in order to ensure that you improve.

Until next month,



Friday, January 1st, 2016

First of all, Happy New Year.  The start of the year at Mason Hayes has been rather hectic as we have been instructed on several large matters simultaneously and there has certainly not been time to ease back in gently after the Christmas break.

Throughout my training contract I have been involved in many mediations and without prejudice meetings.  These have ranged from conducting telephone mediations with the Small Claims Mediation Service to assisting on mediations regarding multimillion pound disputes.

Just recently I had the opportunity to be involved in a tri-party mediation on a larger matter.  The parties were poles apart prior to the mediation but it was hoped that a commercial deal could be made on the day or, at the very least, the issues between the parties could be narrowed.  As a firm, we do not believe that matters cannot be settled simply because the parties have disagreed prior to the mediation.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, the matter did not settle on the day.  Whilst I obviously feel the frustration on behalf of the client, this does not mean that there were no positives to be taken from the day.  Often, a mediation gives you the opportunity to clarify certain issues and to understand the arguments that the other side will be making against you.  Sometimes certain smaller issues can be agreed upon and this at least carves out a path forward for a potential settlement.

In a mediation, the most important thing to remember is that you are there to try and cut a commercial deal and to prevent the parties from incurring further unnecessary legal costs.  It has been very interesting for me as a trainee to observe different mediations and see the differing tactics that opposing parties have used and whether they have come to fruition on the day.  I have witnessed differing approaches from people playing the innocent and wronged party to people taking an aggressive and robust stance.

The most important thing for your client to remember is that it is highly unlikely that either party is going to leave a mediation feeling that they got everything they wanted.  The process is about compromise and making sensible, reasonable offers.

Until next month,



Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

I thought I would use my December blog to look back over the last year and what I have achieved during the first year of my training contract.  I certainly feel like a different person than I was on the first day that I stepped into the office, although I recognise that there is obviously still a lot of learning still left to do!

Being part of a small firm has really given me some great hands on experience that I do not believe I would have received elsewhere.  I have been involved in all sorts of matters from the corporate work to the litigation work.  The litigation work in particular has been extremely wide ranging and I have been involved in disputes ranging in value from £100 all the way up to multimillion pound claims.  One thing I have learnt is that, no matter what the size of the dispute, they are all equally as complex and come with their own issues and complications.  Nothing is straight forward in litigation and there is certainly no simple answer.

The disputes have been equally as wide ranging in nature from neighbour boundary disputes to large telecommunication contractual claims.  Certainly no two days have ever been the same and it has taught me to stay on my toes.

Moving forward into the New Year I am hoping to become more involved in the corporate work to balance out what I have learnt from the litigation team.  I am looking forward to 2016 so I can finally say that I qualify this year!

Until next month,


The Corporate World

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

This month I have had my first taste of working within the corporate department.  As a small firm, my training contract does not consist of the traditional four seat rotation.  Instead, I work on more of an ad-hoc basis assisting where and when I am most needed.  Our corporate department is always extremely busy in the lead up to Christmas and I was therefore asked to assist in completing a deal.  As we are acting for the buyer, one of the first tasks I was asked to complete was the Due Diligence Report.

As this was my first taste of the corporate world, I initially felt outside of my comfort zone in carrying out this task.  In order to complete the Report, I had to review the documents that the seller had provided and put them in some sort of order which was easier said than done.  In corporate, as in litigation, one of the key elements is to ensure that your documents are organised.

I then had to identify potential issues for the client arising from my review of the documents.  However, I had to ensure that the client was also provided with possible ways of overcoming the issues.  It is no use handing your client a document containing a list of problems so that they feel like they have hit a brick wall.  The key is to ensure that you assist them in overcoming any problems or issues so that the deal can progress.  I have now completed the Report and, in doing so, feel like I know much more about the Target business which will inevitably help me in assisting with the deal.  Fingers crossed it all works out for the client as intended!

Until next month,


From Brighton to Stornoway

Thursday, October 1st, 2015

This month has been rather hectic for me as I have been travelling to different areas of the country to deliver seminars and lectures.  As I said last month, I had been asked to give a lecture to the new first generation students at the University of Sussex through the firm’s Charitable Trust.  I therefore travelled all the way down to Brighton at the start of the month in the hope of inspiring some new students!

I thought it would be most useful for them to give them an insight on the daily routine of a trainee solicitor in a commercial firm.  I therefore spoke about the “untypical day” and what is expected of a trainee in the real world.  This is something that I do not believe is taught at law school, but will hopefully help put their studies into context.

From a public speaking perspective, I tried to tailor my approach and the way that I spoke to ensure that it was interesting and engaging to the audience.  I therefore kept it informal and even tried to add some humour in, as I know how easy it can be for a student’s mind to wander, having been there myself not too long ago!

On the complete reverse of this, a week later I had to fly to Stornoway to deliver a seminar to one of our commercial clients.  We were asked to give four seminars to a range of teams over a two day period, which coupled with four flights, was quite tiring!

My approach to these seminars was obviously different to that at the student lectures because it was a more formal work environment.  I therefore had a slide show presentation and made cue cards so that I wasn’t reading a script but ensured that I did not miss anything of importance.

As someone quite new to public speaking, I felt at first that it was vitally important that I did not miss anything out and therefore ensured that I followed the cue cards incessantly.  However, I quickly realised that it was much more engaging for people when I felt more comfortable and talked around the subjects.  I therefore referred back to the slide show presentation and elaborated on the various points that were highlighted by drawing on my own experiences in the office.  The seminar sessions went down extremely well and we received some high praise following the sessions.  I now feel much more confident about speaking in public, having gained much valuable experience over the course of the last month.

Until next month,


Public Speaking

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

This month I have been asked to participate in a series of public speaking opportunities through the firm.  It is important for me to participate in public speaking in order to develop my communication skills.  Communication skills are of vital importance to solicitors in all aspects of the role.

The first opportunity I had was to conduct a seminar alongside the Managing Director of the firm for the in-house legal team of one of our clients.  The thought of this was quite daunting for me initially as the audience were clearly going to be knowledgeable and inquisitive.  I therefore ensured that I looked into my given topics as thoroughly as possible to make sure that what I was saying was informative and relevant.

In preparing, I made sure that I had detailed notes to refer to as I did not want to miss something important out.  In hindsight, it may have been preferable for me to condense my notes and talk around the subject more to ensure that I was engaging with the audience more.  Despite my nerves, I think my first seminar was received well.   I do feel there are a number of areas which I can improve upon but I am sure these will develop with exposure and experience.

This week I have been asked to give a lecture to the new first generation scholars at the University of Sussex through the firm’s Charitable Trust.  This is an entirely different scenario and audience so I will have to adapt my approach accordingly and perhaps be less formal.  I will try not to have such detailed notes at this next talk and instead have some prompts which I can talk around.  Wish me luck!

Until next month,


Relationship with Counsel

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

One thing that I have learnt during the course of my training contract so far is the importance of a solicitor’s relationship with Counsel. Whilst much has been written recently regarding the changes in what is seen as the traditional relationship between the two branches of the profession, it seems to be accepted across the board that the relationship remains of vital importance.

Here at Mason Hayes, we have over the years built good relationships with certain Chambers and have a preferred list of barristers from which we instruct. Whilst we appreciate that it may sometimes be preferable for the client to instruct beyond this list, as a firm we believe it is essential to have an advocate in which you can place the trust of both you and your client.

As a trainee you are likely to be involved in the preparation of papers for Counsel. Whilst this may seem a menial task, it is actually of vital importance to the case at hand. Badly prepared papers could lead to Counsel giving the wrong advice in a conference or a Judge being unable to find the correct documents at a hearing. This could lead to frustration and, at the very worst, irritate a Judge so he does not look at your case in a favourable manner!

You may also be asked to draft Instructions to Counsel prior to a conference or a hearing. This gives you the opportunity to review the case and ensure that the barrister is fully prepared. Again, this is an important task as it is essential that a barrister has everything he or she needs to either give correct and appropriate advice or to stand up in court. In drafting the Instructions the key thing to remember is that the barrister is highly unlikely to have ever met the client and will not have been privy to all of the conversations you have had with your client with regard to the factual background and the way the client wants to manoeuvre the case. You must therefore ensure that your instructions are very clear and provide an adequate amount of detail.

Until next month,


Student Placements

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Over the summer, Mason Hayes has offered several students the chance to gain valuable work experience by taking part in a short vacation scheme. Students apply in the usual way by submitting their CV and covering letters and then a lucky few are selected to attend the placements.

This year, I have been heavily involved in the selection process as well as arranging the work for the students to complete whilst they are with us. Our aim is to ensure that students experience what it is like to work in a commercial law firm and to give them hands on experience of real cases. I therefore drafted a seminar based on a historical case that the firm handled.

The students use their time to read through the seminar and the various Pleadings and correspondence provided to them. When they feel prepared they will then be given the opportunity to talk through the case with myself and a more senior fee earner. The students will be asked what they think the strengths and weaknesses of the case are and how they would advise the client and move the matter forward.

Quite often this will be the first time that students read cases from this perspective. It is obviously a very different experience than learning the academic side of the law as cases need to be approached with commercial acumen as well as legal expertise. I think this is one of the most valuable lessons that we can teach students early on in their careers.

My top tips to ensure that you make it through the selection round would be to ensure that you know the firm you are applying for and make the covering letter relevant to that firm. Don’t use a generic covering letter for each firm you apply for as this is transparent and does not show the firm that you have really taken an interest in the type of work they undertake.

Moreover, ensure that you are punctual and smart when attending any placement and approach it like you would approach the start of a new job. Enthusiasm and talent will shine through to the firm’s you undertake placements with. It is becoming increasingly common for firms to offer jobs to people that stand out during work experience placements so make sure you show them what you can do!

Until next month,


Litigation Skills

Monday, June 1st, 2015


Being involved in a litigation team really makes you appreciate the art of negotiation. This month I had the opportunity to attend a without prejudice meeting on behalf of a corporate client. Prior to the meeting I was involved in discussions surrounding the merits of the claim and the appropriate approach to take in the meeting.

The claim in question was a professional negligence case. When a dispute of this nature arises, it is important to bear in mind any personal concerns that your client may have arising from the dispute but ultimately it is the role of the litigator to provide independent and objective advice.

Many people perceive disputes within the law to be a case of one person being in the right and the other person being in the wrong. Unfortunately, a vast majority of cases are not as black and white as this and many different aspects need to be considered. One of the most important skills of a litigator in my experience so far is being able to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of your client’s case and advise accordingly.

Negotiation skills cannot be taught in a classroom. During my training contract I have been given the opportunity to attend meetings such as this one and witness the skills of experienced negotiators. I have learnt that the ability to read and deal with people is paramount and that first impressions are very important as you do not want to be starting off on the back foot!

It is very possible that something unforeseen could arise in the course of a meeting like this which could throw your intended arguments off track. It can sometimes be very difficult not to become panicked and unnerved in these situations. The best way to deal with this is to stay calm and keep the meeting focussed on reaching a solution for all of the parties involved.

It is also important that you are seen to be united with your client and that you work together towards the same outcome. This is why it is often very useful to have a meeting with your client prior to the negotiations to ensure that you are both on the same page and that you both have the same end goal in mind. If this is not the case then an opponent may seize the opportunity to exploit the differences in opinion and try to drive a wedge between you for their own gains.

Finally, as with all matters of this nature, the lawyer must have commercial sense. Virtually every commercial dispute comes down to money and it is therefore important to keep this at the forefront of the negotiations. If you become too engrossed in complicated legal arguments you run the risk of the meeting becoming a mini trial rather than a sensible commercial discussion regarding settlement.

Luckily for us the meeting I attended did reach a conclusion and provided a positive outcome for our client.

Until next month,


Back to Law School!

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

This month has been rather hectic as I have been seconded to work in house with a new client and have also started my Professional Skills Course.  Many of you may think that you have seen the back of education after completing the LPC but, alas, this is not the case!  However, the courses that trainees are obligated to take are obviously designed to ensure that you are fully aware of the standards and obligations that are placed upon solicitors at the outset of your career.  I found my first course on client care to be both interesting and highly useful for everyday practice.  Although elements of this course are taught on the LPC, it is not truly appreciated by students how important this is until you begin practising.

For instance, we were given details of several scenarios in which a conflict may appear and were asked to decipher whether you should or should not act for the potential client in each scenario.  Whilst it may not always be overtly obvious that a conflict has arisen, it is important that firms have a robust system in place to ensure that they do not inadvertently act in situations where a conflict may arise.

During the course of this month I have also spent the best part of a week working with the Managing Director on the south coast in the offices of a new commercial client.  We are looking to take on a number of matters for the client for our debt recovery department.  I therefore spent my time in meetings with different managers and staff members in an effort to understand the mechanisms of the business.  The aim is to set up a process with the client in which we both work together towards the same end game.  Being involved in this kind of meeting is invaluable in the development of my commercial awareness.  As a firm it is our belief that you are not able to act for your client to your best ability without truly understanding your client’s business and its ethos.  These early days are therefore of the utmost importance in laying the foundations and building the relationship.

Since returning from the meetings, I have been and still am assisting in the drafting of precedent letters whilst considering how our claims will be pleaded.  Whilst I have found this challenging and thought provoking, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Until next month,


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