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musical chairs - the seat rotation process

5 February 2015

As at most firms, Browne Jacobson’s trainees complete four six-monthly seats during their two year training contracts.

The options for trainees here are somewhat unique. Trainees can apply across all of the firm’s departments, and a number of the firm’s offices. This means that one seat you could be in corporate in Birmingham, and spend the next in medical negligence in Nottingham. There are no expectations that a trainee will restrict him or herself to, for example, the firm’s business-focussed departments, allowing for a genuinely broad training contract.

First-seaters will be put into a department, which is a good opportunity to experience a seat that may not otherwise have caught their eye. I am currently in my first seat in the construction team, an area of law which I had barely considered previously, but which has (pleasantly) surprised me with its division between contentious and non-contentious work, and its highly technical nature. It has certainly thrown me in at the deep end, and I feel well-prepared to face my next seats. Hopefully that confidence is not misplaced.

The longer serving trainees are sent a form which states the available seats and their supervisors (whose sometimes unflattering photographs can be found on the intranet’s People Search feature) and locations. They are then asked for their top three choices, and the reasons behind them.

Second year trainees are given priority, allowing them to narrow in on their possible qualification options, but first years are rarely short-changed. During the most recent process, there were 24 available seats for 18 trainees.

While there are no official talks or presentations from different departments to explain what they do, getting hold of information is easy. I was able to drag partners from three different teams away from their desks for long enough to grill them on their teams and goals, and how they utilise trainees. They were all open, friendly and helpful. Trainees and newly-qualified solicitors working in those teams were also happy to offer advice and opinions. This personal approach really helped me to decide which seats were right for me, rather than simply being “sold” a place by different departments.

The seat move process can be a little stressful, particularly where the possibility of moving office (and therefore house) arises. However, the firm ensured that seats were confirmed early enough to give any necessary notice on leases. As an aside, trainees are rarely obliged to work in a different office, provided they are reasonably flexible in their seat choices.

Ultimately, what is available is dependent on business need, so it is not always possible for every trainee to get their first choice of seat However, the firm does try to make the process fair over the course of a training contract, and there are opportunities to develop new skills and gain exposure to different areas of the law in every seat.