When I received a call from one of SA Law’s partners asking me whether I was available to start my training contract six months earlier than planned, I was excited to start my legal career but I was also slightly anxious. I remember my first day vividly; the workload, the people, the environment and the computer applications were all new to me and I was unsure whether I would be able to recall what I had studied in law school. However I was quickly reassured by the welcoming and supportive culture at SA Law. After completing my first seat in Commercial Litigation and Dispute Resolution (CDR) I was stunned by how much responsibility and client contact I have had in my first six months.
When I joined the CDR department, I was told by many of my colleagues that it would be a tough seat, over and above it being my first seat. I quickly realised how accurate that was. Within a few days of starting in the department, I had attended a mediation with a senior associate, carried out a document review at a client’s office, attended a court hearing on my own and observed a lengthy client meeting with counsel on an intricate claim worth over one million pounds. From the outset, I was also entrusted to run a senior associate’s matter under his supervision, which involved taking instructions from our client and drafting lengthy correspondence to the opponent’s solicitors. During my seat, I was often asked to find answers to various obscure questions; whilst I used to find this unnerving, carrying out research has now become second nature to me. My research on a particular form of insolvency arrangement was incorporated into a senior associate’s article for an established journal. I have also been involved in matters with an international dimension, including comparing our laws on commercial agency to those implemented in Italy.
Whilst working closely with associates and partners on high value and complex cases, I was assigned my own caseload of debt recovery matters. This has been particularly valuable. Having responsibility for these matters from start to finish provided me with a detailed understanding of the litigation process. As well as responding to numerous queries from clients, liaising with the court and drafting pre-action letters and court documents, I have been given the opportunity to build client relationships.
The CDR team provide advice on a wide array of disputes, acting for individuals and businesses, and as claimant and defendant. This meant that there was never a dull moment during my seat. The busy nature of the department, combined with strict court deadlines, also meant that it was important to be able to work under pressure and remain organised. Whilst I reviewed my to-do list and prioritised the items on it each morning, it was a constant juggling exercise as new enquiry telephone calls and e-mails would come in throughout the day. Whilst this unpredictability used to make me nervous, I became more and more comfortable with it.
Trainees at SA Law are expected to work hard, but they are also included in department meetings, firm social events and networking events, including those organised by the Hertfordshire Junior Lawyers Division and the Hertfordshire Law Society. I have particularly enjoyed looking after work experience students as part of our community and social responsibility programme and I am looking forward to attending a careers fair at a local college.
Whilst it was not always easy being outside of my comfort zone during my training contract, it has allowed me to develop my confidence and skillset, providing an extremely rewarding experience. I learnt a lot simply by listening to solicitors and partners asking relevant questions and providing clear and structured advice in our open plan office. I now look forward to the challenges that my next seat brings.
We are delighted that Heshini Warnapala completed her Training Contract and is now a Qualified Solicitor in SA Law's Real Estate Team.