Emma Meechan | Private Client Solicitor at McDougall McQueen
Our next guest is Emma Meechan. Emma is a hard-working Private Client Solicitor at McDougall McQueen in Edinburgh. Following the completion of her LLB at Napier part-time, she went on to study the Diploma at the University of Glasgow before commencing a traineeship with Warners Solicitors LLP. She has generously participated in an interview with Sean to share her journey and insights into the profession.
1. Tell us a bit about your background. What university did you attend? Did you take a year abroad? What were your favourite/worst subjects in university? Did you participate in any societies?
I was slightly later to law than some. At school, I was torn between Law and Podiatry (the similarities are uncanny!) and decided to go down the route of Podiatry. Once I completed my degree I worked for a few years and then decided to pursue a career in law. In hindsight, if I had maybe taken a year or two after school to work, I may have made a different choice and gone straight to Law. I was lucky as Napier offered the LLB program on a part-time basis and I was able to attend whilst working. I completed my honours at Napier and then attended Glasgow for my Diploma.
I would say my favourite subject was Family Law. I had it set that I wanted to work in this area and had a great interest. I remember Criminal Law being a particularly tough subject for me. Slightly ironic as I am surrounded by family members who are police officers.
As I was at University part-time and working a full-time job and two part-time jobs, societies weren’t much of an option for me. For any current students, I would suggest getting involved. Your student associates will be colleagues in years to come and the greater your network… the more people you can put questions and queries to during your career!
2. What made you choose to pursue a career in the legal profession? How did you know the area of law you wanted to practise?
I was looking into joining the police and thought I had missed the boat in retraining and attending university to do my Law degree. With some persuasion from my parents they suggested I investigated this and, as much as I hate to admit it, they were right. They now take great credit for my career.
From an early stage, I had an interest in Family Law. Particularly the rights of a Father. This was a stronger area for me at university and I had a real interest in the subject. Looking back at university and the area I specialise in now, I would say the areas of law that interested me were the private practice/client-facing areas rather than corporate. The great thing about this profession is you can change your area of specialty. You can try an area of law and, if that doesn’t work for you, or you want to focus on a different area, the opportunities are there.
3. When applying for traineeships, how did you find the process? Did you already have a lot of legal experience before applying? What made you decide that Warners Solicitors LLP was the firm for you?
There is always a tinge of guilt when a student asks me how I secured my traineeship. I didn’t fill out multiple forms or attend any two-day trainee days. I was in a very fortunate position when it came to my traineeship. I had an interview at Warners and was offered my Traineeship.
When I was in my Diploma year, I had around 4-5 years of experience working in a law firm. I started as a Property Assistant and then an Admin Secretary in the conveyancing department. This meant that I did have quite a lot of experience in the workplace. I knew how a firm worked, I understood the management of a conveyancing transaction and I was confident dealing with clients and other solicitors.
Warners offered a very client-facing approach when it came to training. That, together with their reputation gave me the confidence to take the opportunity to train with them.
4. What sort of tasks and responsibilities did you undertake during your traineeship at Warners Solicitors? Did you get to work with partners or have any client contact? What seats/practice areas did you choose?
Most of my traineeship was spent in residential conveyancing. I had some private client experience towards the end. I knew, roughly, the area I wanted to specialise in, so this was great for me. If you’re not sure what you want to specialise in, then a traineeship with a variety of seats may be better.
As I had some experience, I was able to get involved in transactions from an early stage. I worked in a team of four, including a Partner. Daily tasks during my traineeship would include preparing registration forms, ordering searches, reading Title Deeds, and preparing notes on same and, as I progressed, taking client instructions on missives and preparing Deeds. The Partner would oversee all my work and as I progressed, I started to run my own caseload. By the end of my traineeship, I was running a full caseload and having client contact daily. This way of teaching enabled me to finish my traineeship with a great deal of confidence. I was able to start day one confident in my knowledge and ability as a solicitor.
5. What advice would you give yourself as a law student looking back now as a qualified Solicitor?
Try not to compare yourself to other students – and stop asking what someone put for questions 2 and 4 on your exam, the exam is over, don’t torture yourself! I was working a full-time job and two part-time jobs when I studied. I managed to obtain a 2:1 and still compared myself to others who were graded higher. Now I can remind myself that I may not have been achieving as high marks as others however, I was gaining a lot of experience whilst working. I now also remind myself that just getting a law degree is impressive!
6. What does your role as a Solicitor at McDougall McQueen look like day-to-day?
My days vary greatly. I mainly liaise with clients regarding the preparation of Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Estate matters. I may be contacted by a client who has just experienced bereavement and requires advice. I can be preparing court applications and dealing with property transactions.
7. What is the most rewarding part of your role?
When I speak to a client regarding a matter there is usually a lot of stress, worry and concern involved. In my role, I am there to assist and resolve matters for them. The impact my work has on clients is very clear. Knowing a client is confident that I will manage matters for them and they can relax is very important for me.
8. Do you have the opportunity to partake in any pro bono work in your role? Is pro bono work encouraged/a priority for McDougall McQueen at all?
The past year I have not, unfortunately. We have previously participated in Will Aid however, with offices closed, this past year has been very different for us. We also provide services to members of Unite the Union.
9. Do you work from home all the time or do you work in the office on occasion? Is there an office rota in place for when you are allowed into the office?
I am very fortunate as I live close to my office and can have the flexibility of working from home or the office. Rather than having a rota for different staff members coming into the office, we have dramatically reduced our in-office staff with the majority working from home. At present, our offices are closed and we have limited staff in our branch offices. It is certainly harder for open-plan offices however, I have my own room so social distancing is much easier.
10. What is your work/life balance like at McDougall McQueen? Do you find that your workload has increased or decreased since the lockdown?
Work/life balance varies from time to time. We have had a very difficult past year. The demand for the work I am involved in has also increased. People are more aware of the need for a Will or Power of Attorney and, the harsh reality is, we have also seen an increase in deaths.
There will always be peaks and troughs in your work/life balance as a solicitor. There are deadlines, client expectations, your own expectations, and events, like Covid-19, that you need to adapt to.
I do have a good work/life balance when I can. I tend to find my work/life balance evens out over the spring/summer months when we have lighter nights after work. On Winter nights, I tend to find my laptop. It’s important to make sure your work-life balance doesn’t negatively affect either your work life or your home life. Too much work and you can actually be underproductive during your “routine” office hours. As solicitors, we’re good…. but we’re not superhuman!
11. What is the firm culture like where you are currently working? Does the culture at Warners Solicitors differ from the culture at McDougall McQueen?
I am fortunate in that I have worked in two firms that have a very similar culture. You know everyone you work with, it’s a nice environment to work in, colleagues are there to help and you create good relationships with your clients. A good client/solicitor relationship is key.
12. Do you have other career aspirations/accomplishments you are hoping to achieve?
There are always opportunities to progress your career in this profession. There are further certificates I can study for in respect of estates and tax matters. The STEP Diploma is probably my next venture.
I have been mentoring for around a year now. I mentor through the Law Society and with Napier, this aids Trainees and Students. As my career develops it would be nice to be considered as a tutor on the Diploma programme and to mentor and provide guidance for more students.
13. With mental health awareness becoming more of a priority for law students and subsequently law firms; do you think there is an element of acceptance and adequate help in the profession for Solicitors?*
Our profession is tough, and I think at some point every solicitor has had to consider their mental health. Being a solicitor can be stressful, you want to keep your client happy and assist them as best you can, you want to help your colleagues out and you put a lot of stress on yourself to be the best you can. The reason we do this is for the result – which gives us a great deal of satisfaction.
This past year has shown us how much we need to consider our own mental health and be mindful of others. The Law Society, along with LawCare, provides a space for you to reach out confidentially. Employers are aware of the impact our roles have however, may not be aware of how each individual employee is managing. You tend to form friendships in your firm and your colleagues are there to talk to. You will be supported and the importance of talking cannot be stressed enough.
14. In your opinion, what are the most important skills required for a successful career as a Solicitor?
This single question could be a whole interview! Skills and qualities differ across the board. You should be approachable – your clients need to feel they can pick up the phone and ask a question or reply to your email and say if they don’t understand a point you have raised. Being organised – if you are organised and have your files in order this makes your life ten times easier! Diary notes, reminders, and booking time out to do a file review every so often helps. The most important skill for me is communication. Communication is key! If you communicate with people and keep clients and other solicitors up-to-date, stress, frustration and anxiety reduce by a huge amount. Most skills for a successful career don’t include knowing the law. Knowing the law is an expectation.
One important skill to develop is the ability to work with other solicitors. I can’t stress this enough. Solicitors on the other end of a transaction are not against you. You both want the same outcome, working together on matters and issues that arise during a transaction gets you to the end quicker. If you are acting in a dispute the dispute is between the clients, not the solicitors. Building relationships across the profession is very important.
15. How do you feel about the future of the legal profession? Do you think dealing with clients will become more virtual permanently?
The legal profession has had to rapidly evolve over the last year. We’ve realised people can work from home efficiently, meetings can be carried out by zoom… then the novelty of zoom wore off and we realised those meetings could be dealt with by email! Virtual platforms are modernizing the profession.
I think we are possibly at our limit in terms of becoming more virtual. I work in a High Street Firm where a strong client/solicitor relationship is important. I know about my clients, their family, where they went on holiday, etc. It is difficult to create that relationship virtually. The type of work I do does require a sensitive, personal approach so there must be a balance on the virtual aspect.
16. How do you stay commercially aware with current events and what would you recommend for students?
Social media is a huge platform. Most firms have a Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn page. I find an easy way to keep up to date with most events is via the Law Society of Scotland Website, Scottish Legal News website, and receiving email updates from Legal Matters Scotland. These keep me up to date with what is occurring generally. There are specific forums you can join as well for your area of law. Legal Cheek is quite good for some light-hearted updates and blogs.
How someone is commercially aware is a common question that many people struggle to answer, particularly students. I wouldn’t expect students to be aware of changes in search fees, mergers between smaller firms, who has moved to another firm, etc. Students can look at websites and platforms to familiarise themselves with firms to find out what firms cover different areas of law, risk management is a big area regardless of your area of specialism so start looking at what risk factors you consider in the workplace and, some websites offer free CPD. You aren’t at a stage of requiring CPD however, it gives you an understanding of practice, changes coming into force and considerations for the future, etc.
17. How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Thoughtful, ambitious, and stubborn.
18. What is your proudest achievement?
Without a doubt, being signed off as a Trainee. At that point, there was a sigh of relief, after all those years of studying… I had done it.
19. What is your favourite pastime/hobby you like to do in your spare time? What Television series are you watching at the moment?
I play hockey at the weekends. Obviously with Covid-19 that has been on pause. I have a dog, so my weekends and free time are usually spent out walking with him. There was some light relief in March with the Six Nations as well.
I was hooked on The Stranger. A thriller series is usually my go-to.
20. If you could write a book/film about your life, what would the title be and why?
I would need to nab a famous title I’m afraid. Great Expectations…. I’m an only child!
Interviewed by Sean Doig (Editor-in-Chief 2020/21). We would like to thank Emma Meechan for taking the time out of her busy schedule to participate in the interview for the Law Review. You can find out more about McDougall McQueen, Emma, and the rest of the team on their website here.
You can connect with Emma on LinkedIn and, if you have any further questions of your own or want some encouragement/advice, please feel free to email Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to participate in an interview with the Law Review, please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com
*Note: My question originally asked whether there was an element of acceptance and adequate help available to Solicitors at McDougall McQueen specifically, however, my guest was unable to give a specific answer since they had no experience of any such protocols at the firm. Apologies and thank you for your understanding.