Matthew Flanagan, Corporate Trainee Solicitor, Turner Parkinson
19 September 2016
Interlink Recruitment meets Matthew Flanagan, Corporate Trainee Solicitor at Turner Parkinson and former Chairman of the Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group. We find out more about the elusive training contract, networking opportunities for trainee solicitors in Manchester and how to stand out in a competitive market.
Q: Thank you, Matt for agreeing to talk with us. You have done a lot so far in your career from studies to work experience, can you start by telling us a little bit more about your background and how you were successful in getting your training contract?
A: It was back during my time at school that I knew I was interested in a career in the legal sector. When I was sixteen, I had the opportunity to complete work experience in a local solicitor’s office. Through this, I obtained an insight into the legal profession and an understanding of the type of work you would be doing on a daily basis, which helped me to determine whether or not it would be something I would enjoy as a career. And it was. After that, I applied to study Law with French at Queen’s University, Belfast. During my time at university, I was very determined and motivated to get as much work experience as possible. From the outset, I sought opportunities in Belfast, Manchester and London, and teamed my learning with several work experience placements. The insight I got from working in various different departments led me to an interest in becoming a Corporate lawyer. By this point, I had already gained a good understanding of transactional work and the nature of the work I would be undertaking as a trainee solicitor.
I spent half a year in Toulouse, France as part of my degree, which was a very enjoyable experience. Of course it was quite different - getting to grips with attending lectures in the French language was difficult at first, however it provided me with the opportunity to learn about a completely different legal jurisdiction, alongside meeting and working with people from countries throughout the world. I did however, always know that I wanted to work in England, with Manchester being my first choice. From the time I spent visiting or undertaking work experience in Manchester, I got to know the city quite well, and it was evident that Manchester’s legal sector was continually developing.
Once I graduated from university, I moved to Manchester to start the Legal Practice Course at The University of Law. By this point, I was able to put some of what I knew into practice and the training contract applications were well underway at this stage.
Towards the end of May 2014, I received a call from Interlink Recruitment in relation to a corporate paralegal opportunity with Turner Parkinson. I jumped at the chance to put myself forward for this position because I knew corporate paralegal positions were quite sparse, yet very sought after. My few rounds of interviews went well and I was fortunate enough to be offered the paralegal position, which I started two weeks after finishing the Legal Practice Course.
After a few months of working for the firm, Turner Parkinson offered me a training contract to start in September 2015. The year and two months I spent as a corporate paralegal prior to becoming a trainee solicitor was invaluable – not only did I know the firm and the people very well already, but it allowed me to hit the ground running as a trainee solicitor.
Q: That’s fantastic – what departments have you worked in as a trainee and what’s been the best for you?
A: In September 2015, I commenced my first seat in the Real Estate department, followed by my second seat in the Commercial Litigation department from February until June. I moved back to the Corporate department in June and I am due to qualify into the Corporate department in March 2017. Each department I have worked in has built my knowledge of law in various fields, which I soon came to learn was transferable across the other departments. The work at Turner Parkinson is very business-focused. Given the particular nature of Corporate work, various aspects of Real Estate feed into the transactional work we do and I had the opportunity to greatly improve my drafting skills during my seat in Commercial Litigation. It’s important to take on board and use the knowledge from the other areas within the firm that you have an opportunity to complete a seat in.
Q: What did you have to do more of, focus on or excel in, to secure a training contract?
A: When I began my paralegal position, I went into the role seeing it as a year-long interview. I knew that how well I performed would have a major influence on the outcome of being offered a training contract. From the outset, I got involved with everyone in the team and ensured that I portrayed my willingness and desire to pursue a career in law. It’s important to display these characteristics as a paralegal in search of a training contract, to portray your eagerness and passion for the work you do, so that it is seen by fee earners across the board.
Communication is vital and this was something I’ve work hard on to develop. Not only applying to my colleagues in the Corporate team and across the firm, but also with clients. When having direct contact with clients, it’s important to manage their expectations and keep them updated as transactions progress. To do that well and ensure their satisfaction, you need to be able to extract and share key information accurately and quickly.
You can only learn so much in theory at university and on the LPC, however your learning experiences widen once you get into practice. It is certainly a job in which you are continuously learning on a daily basis and for me, it is an exciting and though-provoking environment to work in.
Q: And how competitive is it, for up and coming solicitors to get training contracts?
A: Yes, it is a very competitive market. However, each year there is an increase in the number of firms taking on trainees, especially firms looking for NQ solicitors for specific areas of law. Whilst it is competitive, it’s a great time to be coming through your legal studies, whether at undergraduate or LPC level, as it is evident that the market is growing.
When applying for firms, it’s important to have a focus on a particular area and the type of firm you want to work for. Completing research on the area(s) of law in which you have an interest and the firm you are applying to is vital, as is making sure the research you have gathered is well presented and relevant throughout your application. The key is to make shortlist of firms that you think would be a good fit for you, as well as you a good fit for them and complete your in-depth research on the firm – it’s more about the quality of your applications as opposed to quantity of applications you submit.
It is a lot more common these days to secure a training contract through the paralegal route. The benefit of this route is that it allows you to deal with those ‘common errors’ when you first start a job, providing you with more confidence when starting your training contract. Having the opportunity to complete seat rotations around the firm provides you with the hands-on understanding of how the firm operates as well as the various styles of work of each department and fee earner.
Q: You are this year’s Chairman of the MTSG – what does that involve?
A: The Manchester Trainee Solicitors Group is an organisation that organises various social, education, sporting and charity events for trainees and paralegals across Greater Manchester. We have a large committee, with twenty-one members sitting on the committee each year. Before being elected as Chairman of the MTSG for this year, I spent a year as one of the Ball Directors on last year’s committee.
My main role as Chairman on the committee is to oversee the smooth running of it all. I mostly support individuals in their respective roles and help to resolve any issues that may arise. It helps having already spent a year on the committee, so I know the ‘drill’ and what to expect. We have a great new committee this year, which was announced in mid-August and our first event of the year, being the MTSG Launch Party was held on Thursday 6th October. The Launch Party was a huge success and a sell-out eventwith over 180 trainee solicitors, paralegals and newly-qualified solicitors attending.
This MTSG calendar year is proving to be particularly adventurous and I have every confidence that the ambitious and hard-working committee will deliver nothing but exciting and unique events to our members and sponsors. Aside from our social and FELT events, we have had a great number of people signing up to the MTSG Ski Trip in January, the Ball Directors are well underway planning the MTSG Winter Ball and we’re even hosting an Inter-JLD Sports Day, competing against a number of Junior Lawyer Division groups in various sports.
Q: Do you think it’s important for up and coming solicitors to be part of such social groups, be it as a member or even joining the Committee?
A: Yes, definitely. When you consider my own situation, I moved from Northern Ireland to Manchester three years ago to commence my studies at The University of Law. I didn’t know that many people in Manchester, so by joining the MTSG, it provided me with a platform to meet friends and build my base of professional contacts. At the MTSG events, you have the opportunity to meet plenty of trainees and paralegals from numerous firms across Greater Manchester.
From a professional perspective, you are all in similar jobs and at a similar stage in your career. There will come the time when you all qualify into your respective departments, and already you have a network of contacts you may be able to refer work to/receive work from.
There are approximately 700 members of the MTSG, a sizable community and whether you are new to Manchester or simply fancy getting to know more people in an informal and sociable setting, it’s a great organisation to join.
Q: As well as studying very hard to get to where you are in the world of law, you are also very creative. You can speak multiple languages and excel at playing the violin, does having a creative side make a difference in the legal world?
A: I would say for interviews and applying for jobs, it really helps. When you have something different that you do in your life, you can really stand out when speaking about it. The more passion you have for a hobby or something unique you do in your spare time, it gives you a lot more to talk about. Interview panels like that and will focus on these areas as topics of conversation during an interview.
A major passion of mine is music and I have been playing since the age of five. Playing the violin and piano are my biggest pastimes and I still play as much as I can. It’s a good stress reliever for me too and I find it quite relaxing after a busy day at work.
Manchester has a fantastic music scene, which I love. I meet up once a month with a group of musicians, playing traditional Irish music which as well as being a great laugh, it is great for networking and making contacts. The other people in the group come from a wide range of other professions and you never know when, or if they may need legal advice.
What advice would you give to aspiring lawyers, to help them know how to stand out and get noticed?
A: There is an academic standard of course that needs to be met – certain firms will want certain grades, but it’s important to ask the question, “What else can you bring?”
For myself, it was important to obtain as much work experience as possible from the outset. When I was studying in Belfast, I took on some voluntary work with Victim Support Northern Ireland where I would volunteer in the courts one day a week helping victims of crime. It was completely different to the line of law I knew I wanted to work in but for me, I felt great satisfaction in being able to help and support victims and their families after the traumatic ordeal they had experienced.
It’s also very important for lawyers to be personable and approachable, not just with your colleagues but most importantly with your clients. Never forget that clients are people too so if you can talk to them on a personal level, you will find they’ll do the same with you.
Q: And finally, what has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
A: As I am still at a very early stage in my legal career, I would say the biggest challenge so far was securing the sought-after training contract offer. Applying for training contracts can be very time consuming and for me, perseverance was key. We talked before about it being a competitive industry and there are hundreds of applicants fighting for training contracts every year, however it is definitely a growing market with more trainee positions opening each year.
I believe that the right firm is out there for all aspiring lawyers, and if you focus, apply yourself and persevere, you will get where you want to be. It was the biggest challenge for me but once you have your training contract secured, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world.
Thank you very much, Matt. It's been a pleasure to talk and get to know you - we wish you all the best for your future and of course with the MTSG this year.
Interlink meets is an opportunity for us to share career insights with like-minded legal professionals. We are fortunate enough to get to talk to many faces in the world of law, through Interlink meets we hope to inspire others with their legal futures.