I had anticipated that my seat in the Wills & Probate department would be difficult, with visions of complex tax calculations and form filling. In truth, it soon became one of the most valuable experiences I have had so far on my training contract. My previous seat had been in Commercial Dispute Resolution, which involved infinite to-do lists and deadlines, which in fact I very much enjoy. I thrive under pressure and admittedly the stark contrast in pace when I moved departments, was quite a shock to the system. However, it was during my time in the Wills and Probate department that I was able to slow down and really focus on developing the skills of being a good, efficient and professional solicitor.
The huge advantage of working within this team, was that I was able to shadow and work with one solicitor at all times. I attended every single client meeting, overheard every telephone call and dictation as it was being made. This aided me in developing my style and use of language when corresponding with different people. I had one-on-one supervision, which you are not always guaranteed as a trainee. Tips and tricks of what to do, or what not to do in certain situations, which I will have in mind throughout my future as a solicitor, can only come from spending a vast amount of time with an experienced, highly intelligent and fantastic lawyer.
I was drafting Wills from my first day in the department and soon thereafter was trusted to draft the more complex Wills, involving life interests and shares. Through observing every client meeting, I learnt how to advise on tax implications and lasting powers of attorney in a clear and structured manner. I had not appreciated just how important people’s Wills are to them and how anxious clients can get regarding what will happen when they pass away. Particularly for many older clients, oftentimes caught up in family feuds or problematic circumstances, their objective is simply to be reassured that their wishes are clearly expressed and valid. I learnt the importance of writing detailed attendance notes, and the transferable skill of asking the right questions.
People recently bereaved, often crying and at a loss as to what to do and how to cope, come to our Probate team for support when realistically, the last person they want to speak to is a lawyer. As a trainee, I began to recognise how to deal with such vulnerable clients, with the right level of compassion and professionalism, so as to assure them that the matter is under control. Client’s hand over plastic bags bursting with paperwork, often ripped and covered in dust. It was my task to rifle through and ensure that nothing relevant was missed. Although this can be somewhat laborious and time-consuming, it was fulfilling to know that you are genuinely helping someone, who really needs it.
Towards the end of my six months in the Wills and Probate team, I was entrusted to greet clients alone, witnessing their wills and explaining how they can swear oaths. The face-to-face contact I had with clients grew greatly as my time in the department went on. I also had responsibility in liaising with clients and many companies when dealing with estates, over the telephone. I finished the seat by submitting IHT forms I had completed, in relation to a complex estate worth over £7 million. This involved an enormous portfolio of shares in various companies, both in the UK and internationally, alongside property abroad. It was a huge project I had been assigned from my first day in the seat, and it was extremely satisfying to see the forms submitted.
My time in the department, was well spent. I developed skills which cannot be taught in a textbook at law school, and which I will undoubtedly utilise throughout my career. I witnessed first-hand, the gratitude client’s show for our assistance with difficult matters, which are extremely sensitive and close to their hearts.