Opting to go to the country was the best decision of my career to date
Oban lawyer Billie Kirkham urges other trainee solicitors to follow her example and consider their futures in rural areas such as Argyll
I’M NOW about one year into my traineeship with MacPhee and Partners and have spent the majority of my time working in our private client department.
In June last year, I made an important and difficult decision to move home to Oban after completing the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Edinburgh.
I had been working with a firm in Edinburgh through the diploma and had intended on staying with them to complete my traineeship but something didn’t quite fit. I’m from Oban and I didn’t really settle in Edinburgh, having always been a home bird and yet, until I was contacted by MacPhee, I had not once considered moving home so soon.
Why? This is something I’ve spent time thinking about.
Despite feeling as though a commercial traineeship based in the city was not something I would necessarily enjoy, I did what everyone else in my class was doing in third year and applied to work for the names which I had seen dotted around campus and mentioned by lecturers.
For obvious reasons, universities encourage students to apply for these traineeships but what do you do if that lifestyle just isn’t for you?
I was fortunate enough to have a number of wonderful professors to turn to who offered some excellent advice.
Before that, when I was reading trainee blogs and university graduate publications with a view to discovering where I might fit into the legal world, there was a gap in the media. I’m hoping to fill that gap, even just marginally, and explain why, if you don’t see yourself in one of those firms, you should consider thinking outside the box.
I’ve summarised the three main reasons why I think graduates should consider moving to rural areas.
It’s important to establish a balanced lifestyle and I don’t see any reason for not starting this in your junior years. To maintain a healthy and positive attitude at work, it’s essential you take time to develop outside interests.
I love being outdoors and I have two dogs. Obviously, city life made things difficult for me in this respect. I would finish work and have to sit on the motorway for an hour or so before I could reach terrain which wasn’t paved. Now I jump over my garden fence. On my lunch hour I will either go home to take the dogs for a walk or, depending on the day’s coffee intake, go for a run to the beach.
When I first started my traineeship, I was tempted to work through lunch but this was soon addressed by my supervisors.
Now that I have a better handle on my time management, I’m grateful this was mentioned before it became a habit. I’ve been meeting clients, unsupervised, for four or five months now and have been managing my own caseload for more than eight. I am responsible for overseeing my fees and for managing my workload to meet fee target each month.
This means deciding whether or not I might need to come in early or leave later to complete whatever I’m working on and I am given flexibility. Personally, I work better in the mornings so if I need to put in some extra hours, I’ll come in early.
Working in a firm of this size requires all hands on deck and while this was slightly daunting at first, being given the opportunity to demonstrate my ability has given me confidence which I think is lacking in most of us when we’re fresh out of the classroom.
Of course, my work is supervised. I am managed by one of the partners, who I work alongside each day.
Having grown up in Oban, I know most of the faces I pass in the street. Lots of my clients know or have known members of my family and I find they make that connection at the outset. Immediately, we have something in common.
I have always envisaged working in a client-based profession. For me, this means meeting and talking to people regularly, building rapport.
Another important relationship is with solicitors outside of your firm and, in areas like Oban, you begin to recognise the voices at the other end of the phone very quickly. These are the same people you will meet in court and at professional events in town.
They are a close network of people and getting to know them affords you the opportunity to learn from them too.
I have spent most of my traineeship dealing with wills, powers of attorney and executries.
I’m now splitting my time and working in our family department dealing with contact disputes, divorce, separation and guardianship orders.
Looking back to when I was deliberating over the pros and cons of moving outside the city, something which concerned me slightly was whether or not the work coming through the door would be enough to hold my attention. How much can really be going on in one little town, right? Wrong.
Since joining the firm I have administered executries involving assets all over the world (a chance to brush up on my French) and have realised that my private client tutor was not joking when she said I’d be arranging funerals.
The variety of work which I have undertaken in the past year has left me satisfied I will never be bored.
I was apprehensive about losing my social life.
However, I decided that, for me, the various benefits of rural life outweighed being 10 minutes from the nearest club and I have found I see my friends almost as much as I would have if I was living in the same city.
On Fridays I regularly pack up and head to Glasgow to get my fix of the nightlife and friends enjoy visiting me here to escape the city.
It is important to remember that, while we have all come from university, having studied the same subjects and graduated with the same qualifications, we are individual and have different personalities.
Take the time to think about what type of traineeship is best suited to you and try to view the two years of training as the foundations of your career, rather than another box which needs to be ticked en route to qualification.
Billie Kirkham: trying to arrest depopulation.