A legal career in private practice is just one of a plethora of options available to you. What if you want to be a lawyer and you’re most interested in constitutional and administrative law and politics? How about the Government Legal Service (GLS)? I talked to Hannah Gray, a trainee solicitor in the Government Legal Department (the largest department within GLS), about her job and how she went about getting it.
What made you chose the GLS?
“I knew I wanted to work at the point where politics and law meet and for me that was the GLS.”
How does the selection process work?
“The selection process is very clear cut and comprises three online test stages and an assessment centre. I liked the fact that you are told in advance exactly when you’ll find out whether you’ve got through each stage in the process. I found the situational judgment test, (one of the three tests which form the application stage of the process), the most difficult. You can’t prepare for it. It’s more about assessing your judgment in dealing with the types of situations you may encounter as a legal trainee in the GLS. The questions address issues like, when should you use your initiative, and when should you flag issues to your supervisors, and how do you handle difficult situations in the workplace.
I think the most enjoyable part of the process is the written exercise at the assessment centre. It’s important to write very clear English and to be certain that you’re answering the question! Keep checking back to make sure .
It’s worth pointing out that you don’t have to have legal knowledge to get through the recruitment process, about 60% of recruits this year did not come from a legal background.
You should also know that you can join the GLS and take a pupillage route so that you become a barrister rather than a solicitor. Your second “seat” would be spent in barrister’s chambers.”
What’s special about the GLS?
“Without doubt the level of responsibility you get as a trainee. I thought I’d be working very closely with a supervisor and that I might be going to meetings and doing some discrete tasks. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be handed my own files on day one! It’s scary but I feel very supported. There’s always someone to ask for help and to discuss things with. I even found that right from the beginning solicitors and barristers were interested in my opinion.”
How about the work-life balance?
“It’s good. There’s never a feeling that you need to be seen to be in the office! I generally work from 9.00am to 5.30pm or 6.00pm. Others work for a similar length of time but choose to start earlier or later. That’s fine. People who need to work particular hours because of care responsibilities always seem to be accommodated.”
How about the social life?
“That’s really good too. There were 17 trainees in my intake and we’re all friends. There was a real effort to help us get to know one another before we started, both formal and informal events were organised. Now we’re spread out across Whitehall departments, but we still get together regularly. We get on well with trainees above and below us too. If you’re not sure about something and don’t want to bother a supervisor you can always ask peers. Generally you’ll get an answer. You can always find someone to have a chat with over lunch if you’re having a bit of a tough day . It’s a really supportive environment.”
So what have you actually been doing?
“All trainees in the Government Legal Department (GLD) spend one year in litigation. My first 6 month seat was in the MoD Private Law Team, which is part of GLD. This was really interesting. It was private law in a public sector context. I handled a lot of damages claims. You’re always aware that if you pay out you’re using taxpayers’ money. Sometimes cases have to be progressed as a matter of principle, even if in the individual circumstances it would be cheaper to settle. It’s a different kind of pragmatism from that in private practice.
My second seat was in one of GLD’s immigration teams. I had a very heavy caseload, it’s fast paced and the law is changing rapidly, so you have to work hard to make sure you’re on top of what’s happening. It was exciting, I thought I might find it upsetting but I found that even when individual stories were sad, I could keep a professional outlook and get on with the job of representing my client.
I’m currently in my third seat, in the Health and Safety Executive Legal Advisers team. The change from litigation to advisory work is a significant one – the pace and style of work is completely different. It’s good being able to get into the fine detail of the law when answering clients’ queries, which vary across a huge range of legal matters.”
And the future?
“I see myself having a long term future in GLS. Nothing has changed since I decided I wanted to do this sort of work. I have not been disappointed – if anything it has exceeded my expectations – and the career progression is good. Once you’re qualified you’re advised to change roles every three to four years and to carefully consider your career path. Managers make sure that you’re getting the right experience to progress, both as a trainee and once you’re qualified.”
If you’re at Warwick, GLS are coming in to visit us this term. Come along and find out what a career with them has to offer and if you’re interested in finding out more about legal careers look at the Warwick Law Careers blog.