Having studied history of art at university, Rachel Kitchman decided she wanted to be a solicitor, and successfully applied for a training contract at Slaughter and May. Due to qualify in March, Rachel is currently on secondment in Toronto, working for one of Slaughter and May's Canadian relationship firms.
What's life as a trainee at Slaughter and May like?
The firm has an extensive practice, which gives trainees the opportunity to experience many different areas of law. The matters I've worked on have often been front page news due to the high profile nature of our clients. It's exciting to be part of a firm that is at the forefront of the legal profession; whether you are working on a type of project that has never been attempted before or toward setting a new precedent in court.
One thing that might seem hard to believe is that there are no target hours. Rather than having to work a certain number of billable hours every week, we're encouraged to focus on the quality of our work. It has a huge impact on the culture as it means people are happy to make time for you, for instance if you want to ask your supervisor about something. It's the same all the way up to partner level; there is a strong team ethos and practice of sharing expertise.
How does the "relationship firms" system work?
The "relationship firms" system means that, rather than having offices in every city, we have close working relationships with firms around the world, all of which are market leaders in their respective jurisdictions. It allows us to use the best lawyers possible, those who understand the market and culture in their part of the world in great detail. In my corporate seat, many of the transactions I worked on involved working with relationship law firms from around the world. I found I'd be in touch with them as much as I was with my internal team in London.
What differences are there between working in London and working in Toronto?
The two firms have slightly different ways of working, but both are focused on providing the same high quality end product. In Toronto, although I've a partner who acts as a mentor, I'm entirely responsible for my own workload meaning I have to go out and look for work. It's a contrast to London, where much of a trainee's work tends to come from their supervisor. I also have my own office here in Toronto, which overlooks Lake Ontario!
Although Canadian common law is based on English law and the concepts are similar, there are differences between the two, particularly in terminology. When I first arrived it was a bit daunting but once I started working I realised the skills I'd learned in England were still applicable.
How have you found living in Canada?
I'm really enjoying getting to know a new city. I have a huge list of restaurants I'd like to visit, and there are lots of interesting areas to explore. Everyone is very friendly and the firm organises a constant stream of social events. I've also been able to visit New York, Montreal, Ottawa and Niagara Falls. I'm going to Chicago in a couple of weeks too and hope to visit Vancouver and the Rockies before I fly home.
One thing about Canada though is that it's extremely cold; it was -5 when I walked into work the other day and my new colleagues assure me that this is only the start!
What will be the next step in your career once you're back from Toronto?
The qualification process is currently going on back in London. It's a bit strange being so far away but the firm has done a really good job of keeping me up-to-date. Slaughter and May has a high trainee retention rate, typically around 90 per cent, so the process is more straightforward than at other firms. Testing my skills in a new context has been a great way to improve my confidence before starting as an associate.