Charlotte McTavish | Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers (UK)
Our next guest is Charlotte McTavish. Charlotte undertook her LLB at Napier and went on to complete the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Edinburgh. Following the completion of her traineeship with Allan McDougall Solicitors, she is now working as a fully qualified solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Edinburgh. Charlotte has shared her journey from sitting an exam on the floor in Vienna to applying to traineeships and her day-to-day tasks as a Solicitor.
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 born in Stavanger, Norway, and grew up in a very multi-cultural household. My father is Scottish, whilst my mother is Japanese, Norwegian, and Polish. I speak both Norwegian and English fluently. I attended the International School of Stavanger and then moved to Edinburgh in 2012 to study Law at Edinburgh Napier University. I spent one year abroad in Vienna and then completed the Legal Diploma at the University of Edinburgh.
My favourite subjects were Evidence, Criminal Law, and Obligations. I also quite enjoyed Property Law. Company Law was my least favourite subject.
As an undergraduate, I was part of Napier’s Law and Mooting Society and was also a Student Mentor with Napier’s Student Peer Mentoring Programme. I also wrote for Edinburgh University’s The Tab Online Journal and was part of their German and Art Society. During the Diploma, I was a Student Member of the Staff/Student Liaison Committee. I also was a recipient of the Edinburgh Award.
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?
When I was in Middle School, we did a mock trial of the Lockerbie Trial. I was a Defence Solicitor. I enjoyed researching, building a case, and then presenting my arguments in a mock courtroom. This experience inspired me to have a career in law. I would say like many, I wanted to go into criminal law initially. It was ultimately a personal injury case within my family that lead me to the career I have now as a Personal Injury Lawyer.
3. You participated in the ERASMUS Exchange Programme with the University of Vienna in your third year; what was that experience like for you? Would you recommend studying abroad to other students?
This was a very enjoyable experience for me, and I would love to live in Vienna again someday in the future. I would say that university was very different in Vienna. I was used to having 3 to 4 classes per semester, where each subject was worth 10 ECTS credits. Whilst I was in Vienna, many of the classes were worth 2 to 4 credits, so I ended up having about 10 classes or more for one semester. Some of the classes lasted a week or two, whilst the others lasted a full semester. We did not have any coursework, so our grades were solely based on class participation and exams. I remember having 6 exams in 5 days and it was very tough! I also had to sit one exam on the floor because all the seats were taken. You definitely would not have experienced that in the UK! Apart from that, I would definitely recommend studying abroad to students. It’s an opportunity for you to try something new, meet different people and have a lot of fun.
4. You completed your Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Edinburgh; how did you find the course? How does studying the Diploma compare to studying the LLB? Would you recommend applying to the University of Edinburgh?
I really enjoyed the Diploma. The course is more practical than theoretical, so I was very happy I did not have to write another essay! I was working part-time alongside the Diploma and it was very full-on but manageable.
I would definitely recommend Edinburgh University for the Diploma. The tutors were excellent and I feel that it did prepare me for my traineeship.
5. 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 Allan McDougall Solicitors was the firm for you?
Applying for traineeships is very tough and the competition is high. I applied to several firms and had about five interviews before I secured a traineeship. Interviews are not my strong suit, but you get better at them the more you do. I definitely had some train wreck interview experiences that I want to forget!
Dealing with rejection is tough and it can be very discouraging. I believe you end up exactly where you are supposed to be. I would recommend that you do not apply for every firm under the sun. It is very time-consuming and it is better to focus your energy on a firm you actually want to work for. When you have an interview, it is important to remember that this is also an opportunity for you to get a feel for the firm and see if this is a place you actually want to work for.
After dealing with a lot of rejection, I actually ended up with two traineeship offers. I believe the fact that I had been a Legal Assistant then New Case Handler at Thompsons Solicitors definitely helped. I also was very involved with the firm. I wrote for their blog and was a member of their Social Committee.
I chose Allan McDougall Solicitors because I had a positive experience during my interview. The partners were very friendly and I felt very relaxed. We also had a great chat about true crime documentaries. The traineeship also started a year earlier and I was very keen to get started.
6. What sort of tasks and responsibilities did you undertake during your traineeship? Did you get to work with partners or have any client contact? What seats/practise areas did you undertake?
I did my traineeship in the Litigation Department, focusing primarily on personal injury law. I was able to work for multiple partners and solicitors, and was given a lot of responsibility. My days varied. I could be taking statements from clients or witnesses; doing the court run; attending proofs and taking notes; or going on-site visits.
I feel that it is very important that you tell your supervisor what you want out of your traineeship. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! I wanted more litigation experience because I felt very anxious about appearing in court. I also wanted experience in Employment Law, as I really enjoyed the subject at university. This became very useful for when I was applying for NQ roles. I was put on furlough for most of my second year. I qualified in October 2020. I had already gained a vast amount of experience in my first year and a half, which is what I built my CV on. I was also very involved with the firm – which is very attractive to prospective employers.
7. What advice would you give yourself as a law student looking back now as a qualified Solicitor?
I would first take advantage of the Careers Hub at university and get help with writing CVs and cover letters, and also preparing for interviews. I would also have applied for part-time jobs or work experience much earlier in my university career. If I was eligible for Napier’s Employer Mentoring Programme, then I would have signed up for that as well. These are great ways to establish contacts in the legal industry and gain insight into what a career in law entails.
8. What does your role as a Solicitor at Slater and Gordon look like day-to-day?
I started my role during the pandemic and have only had two days in the office this past year. I thought I would struggle to work from home, but I found that I quite enjoy it because I am less distracted and it gives me more time for my hobbies/interests.
My days vary. I could be negotiating offers; valuing cases; or appearing/attending virtual court hearings or proofs. I love to get involved, so I am a member of the firms’ Social and Charity Committee. I also organise content for an internal newsletter.
My firm is very social and everyone is very approachable and friendly. We have had virtual lunches and hosted many virtual social events, such as a quiz night and escape room.
9. What is the most rewarding part of your role?
A personal injury claim can be very stressful for clients. I find it very rewarding to guide clients through the process and to help make things easier for them, and to also achieve a great settlement.
10. Do you have the opportunity to partake in any pro bono work in your role? Is pro bono work encouraged/a priority for Slater and Gordon at all?
I have not been able to do pro bono work yet, however, I do help out where I can. I am a member of the firm’s Social Committee and we are currently expanding and looking for new partnership opportunities.
11. What is your work/life balance like at Slater and Gordon? Do you find that your workload has increased or decreased since the lockdown?
Slater and Gordon definitely encourage a work-life balance. We are not expected to work crazy hours. I do work overtime on a weekly basis, but that is my own choice. I feel the most productive in the morning, so I like to start work early. I rarely work past 5PM – mainly because my mind turns to mush at this point!
In terms of the workload, this increased when the lockdown restrictions eased and I definitely struggled with this at first. I believe it is important to be transparent and honest with your supervisor. If you are stressed and overworked, then tell them. There is no point in suffering in silence! I have only been a solicitor for a year, so I am still learning every day on the best way to manage my workload. There is a lot of trial and error.
12. What is the firm culture like where you are currently working? Do you see yourself working at Slater and Gordon for the foreseeable future?
Slater and Gordon is very welcoming and inclusive. I have yet to meet most of my colleagues in person, but everyone has been very friendly, helpful, and supportive. I feel that I can reach out to anyone at any point, which is very important at the start of your career!
I would love to live abroad at some point, but for the moment, I am happy where I am.
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 recognition and adequate help at Slater and Gordon for their employees?
I believe the pandemic has definitely opened up many conversations surrounding mental health, and it is definitely much easier to talk about it now than before. During lockdown, our firm was offering classes in yoga, meditation and mindfulness. The firm also operates an open (virtual) door policy. I feel comfortable reaching out to my colleagues at any time.
14. In your opinion, what are the most important skills required for a successful career as a Solicitor?
It is very important to be organised. Find a good system where you can diarise your tasks and set reminders. You do not want to miss out on any important court dates or deadlines. This will also help you to keep on top of your workload.
Pay attention to detail. Take detailed statements and keep detailed telephone notes and confirm what you discussed with clients by email as well.
Lastly, I would say that it is important to get involved and to ask questions.
15. How do you feel about the future of the legal profession? Do you think dealing with clients will become more virtual permanently?
I am really happy with the way things are progressing. The pandemic has taught us that it is possible to operate remotely, aside from the occasional and inevitable IT problems. I find virtual courts are more informal which makes them less daunting. Appearing in court can be very nerve-wracking! As for dealing with clients virtually, for my area of law, I believe this has worked very well and it isn’t that much different from before. I have a high caseload and meeting each client face to face would not be feasible. It really depends on the nature of the client’s injuries and the accident circumstances. You can still apply the same amount of client care through the telephone and by email. Just make sure you manage a client’s expectations from the start and keep them updated as much as you can.
For those of you who are interested, I would definitely recommend Richard Susskind’s book, Tomorrow’s Lawyer: An Introduction to Your Future, and Basil Manoussos’ webinar, Delivering Justice Remotely – AI Solutions for Courts of the Future. It is available on the Law Society’s website.
16. How do you stay commercially aware with current events and what would you recommend for students?
I would definitely subscribe to Scottish Legal News and attend events with the Law Society and Scottish Young Lawyers Association (SYLA).
17. How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, thoughtful, and ambitious.
18. What is your proudest achievement?
I would say that qualifying as a Solicitor was a huge achievement for me. It took eight years of hard work to get to where I am today.
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 my free time, I enjoy portrait painting and being active. I love to go running, hiking, and do weight training. I am currently training for my first half marathon which will take place in my hometown in November.
I am currently watching Only Murders in the Building. If you like murder mysteries, this show is definitely for you! It is the perfect show for the fall season.
20. If you could write a book/film about your life, what would the title be and why?
This is a tough question! My friends and family will definitely make fun of me for this, but I would probably say, “Goonies never say die”. The Goonies is my favourite childhood movie.
Interviewed by Sean Doig (President 2021/22). We would like to thank Charlotte McTavish for taking the time out of her busy schedule to participate in the interview for the Law Review. If you would like to participate in an interview with the Law Review, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.