“20 Questions with…Ellen Andrew”

Ellen Andrew | Solicitor at Brodies LLP (Litigation Insurance & Risk Team)

Our next guest is Ellen Andrew. Ellen is a Solicitor at Brodies LLP in the Litigation Insurance & Risk team. She completed her LLB and Diploma in Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow before commencing a traineeship with Balfour+Manson 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 studied at the University of Glasgow and spent a semester abroad at the University of Western Australia in Perth. I loved both.

My favourite subject was probably either property law, or labour law, during my undergraduate degree. My least favourite was corporate law.

I was actively involved in the goings-on of Glasgow University Union as a member of one of its standing committees for three years, but was also a member of the ski club, and the law society too. 

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 had been interested in the jobs of my parents’ friends, who were both private practice solicitors and advocates, so together with that and a tendency to be quite argumentative as a teenager(!) I felt that studying law at university would be a good decision.

Much of my early work experiences in law were in civil litigation, so I knew I was interested in that as an area, and during my traineeship I really enjoyed litigation, specifically cases involving injury and negligence.

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 Balfour+Manson LLP was the firm for you?

I spent a week with B+M a couple years before applying for my traineeship and also spent time with another medium-sized firm as well.

The process of applying for a traineeship (and a summer placement) was time-consuming, and stressful at times, but I was delighted when I was offered a traineeship at B+M. The firm offered good litigation training alongside the opportunity to experience other practice areas. 

4. What sort of tasks and responsibilities did you undertake during your traineeship Balfour+Manson? Did you get to work with partners or have any client contact? What seats/practice areas did you undertake?

My first seat was in private client, followed by family law, and then the final year of my traineeship was spent in litigation. For the first half, I specialised in medical negligence, and the second half in a more generalised personal injury seat.

I was supervised by a partner in every seat I worked in, so I would work with that individual almost every day. I had lots of opportunities for client contact, which really helped develop my skills in communication.

5. What advice would you give yourself as a law student looking back now as a qualified Solicitor?

To remember that the fun part of being a student is as important as working hard and applying yourself to your studies.

My favourite and most enduring memories of university weren’t the library, or the late-night stints required to finished essays (even though that happened more than once!), but rather student society activities and nights out, spending time with friends and working, and enjoying various part-time jobs. These ‘life’ experiences, I believe, have made me a better colleague, friend, and lawyer, so my advice would be to harness and cherish those experiences because they are invaluable in the long run.

6. What does your role as a Solicitor at Brodies LLP look like day-to-day?

I’m a defender solicitor, working for both insurers and self-insured clients, dealing primarily with claims for injury and industrial disease. This covers a wide range of work, so my days are often quite varied, depending on where each case is at in the relevant court procedure. We work very collaboratively at Brodies and have lots of internal meetings where we discuss trends and share knowledge – so I will often have a team meeting, or a training session scheduled into my day.

7. What is the most rewarding part of your role?

There’s a lot to choose from, but probably working with great colleagues, who are not only friendly and supportive but also talented at what they do – and I get the opportunity to learn from them.

8. Do you have the opportunity to partake in any pro bono work in your role? Is pro bono work encouraged/a priority for Brodies at all?

We all have a commitment to the communities that we live and work in, so colleagues regularly undertake pro bono work with a community element. A recent example would be from colleagues in our Highland office, who provided legal support on the transfer of ownership of a historic church on the Hebridean island of Ensay to its local community.

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’m working from home and have been doing so for the past year, in line with government guidance, like many others across the legal sector. Brodies has supported us in being able to do that, and the use of a chat and video call platform has made it much easier to remain connected with colleagues and clients!

10. What is your work/life balance like at Brodies? Do you find that your workload has increased or decreased since the lockdown?

When I left the office last March, I was 8 months qualified, and I’m now approaching 2 years qualification, so I think my workload has naturally increased as I become more experienced and take on more responsibility – as would have been the case under normal circumstances.

I do think the way we deal with our workload has changed though, due to the pandemic. You don’t have the same consequential breaks that happen in an office environment (i.e., unplanned catch-ups at the kettle; travel to internal or external meetings, or court); you have to be quite disciplined in stepping away and getting a cup of tea, or taking a fresh air break now and again. We have, of course, gained a lot more flexibility too because there’s no commuting time; and there’s also the advantage of being home to accept delivery of all my ASOS and Amazon orders…! 

11. What is the firm culture like where you are currently working? Does the culture at Balfour+Manson differ from the culture at Brodies?

Brodies and Balfour+Manson are very different firms, but both are incredibly social places. I made great friends during my traineeship, whom I have kept in touch with, and I’ve also made solid friendships with colleagues at Brodies.

12. Do you see yourself working here for the foreseeable future? Do you have other career aspirations/accomplishments you are hoping to achieve?

I really enjoy working in insurance and risk, so for me, it’s all about broadening my knowledge and learning from colleagues who have years of experience behind them.  A large proportion of my caseload involves claims for occupational disease. I find these types of cases particularly fascinating, and very varied in terms of the challenges they present, so I’d like to continue doing more in this area of law.

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 at Brodies for their employees?

Yes, wellbeing is one of the core focuses for Brodies in looking after colleagues – and the firm recognises that health needs differ from one person to the next. There’s a dedicated health and wellbeing manager to assist with supporting those individual needs.

14. In your opinion, what are the most important skills required for a successful career as a Solicitor?

Curiosity. I find myself often asking “why?”, not because I don’t understand, but because I always want to understand more or understand better.  The more curious and inquisitive I think you are as a lawyer, the more you’ll learn, and the better you will become at achieving good results for your clients.

Communication is also very important. We communicate every day in a variety of ways, using a variety of platforms, and with a wide range of people. Gaining skills in both written and verbal communication is organic as you go about your life as a legal assistant, trainee, paralegal, or solicitor, but seeking out opportunities to learn from other people’s styles or methods of communication, will only ever benefit your own abilities. 

15. How do you feel about the future of the legal profession? Do you think dealing with clients will become more virtual permanently?

I think we all hope many aspects of the ‘old normal’ will come back to our role, because we enjoy meeting our clients; I enjoy the hustle and bustle of attending and appearing in court, and miss the company of my colleagues- and going for Friday night drinks!

However, we’ve also gained many efficiencies, and the development of platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams as tools for engaging with clients or colleagues more personably on a regular basis will hopefully be a method of communication that is here to stay. I certainly have had the opportunity to work more closely with colleagues based in other offices, whom previously I might only have seen face-to-face every now and then.

16. How do you stay commercially aware with current events and what would you recommend for students?

When you embed yourself in a sector or a firm, remaining commercially aware does become easier, however, I recommend that law students access Scottish Legal News for updates. The Journal is also a good source of information about changes in the law affecting Scotland, along with trends within the profession.

17. How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

I would like to say (really) funny, but….. personable, driven, and tenacious (essentially quite stubborn).

18. What is your proudest achievement?

Can I have two? The day I was admitted as a solicitor to the Law Society of Scotland at the Signet Library, and the day I graduated from my LLB. Both were symbols of the hard work I put in, and of the responsibility of the role I now hold as a qualified solicitor.

19. What is your favourite pastime/hobby you like to do in your spare time? What Television series are you watching at the moment?

In normal times, I play netball at club level in Edinburgh, so I spend a lot of time training, and playing league matches, with my club. I can’t wait to get back on the court.

20. If you could write a book/film about your life, what would the title be?

The Hunger Games. Not because I would volunteer as a tribute, but because I am often hungry…

 

Interviewed by Sean Doig (Editor-in-Chief 2020/21). We would like to thank Ellen Andrew for taking the time out of her busy schedule to participate in the interview for the Law Review. You can find out more about Ellen, her admirable experience, and read her thoughts and insights into different legal topics on the Brodies LLP website here.

If you would like to participate in an interview with the Law Review, please do not hesitate to contact us at ednapier.lawreview@gmail.com.

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