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Trainee solicitors in local government are somewhat unicorns in the legal world. One will find themselves asking if they do really exist and if they indeed do, how do they look like or what do they do all day long. It is not all about bye-laws and committee meetings, ya know. Believe me when I say that we do exist and I feel the pain of your curiosity. So, I shall try to speak for all current trainee solicitors in local government and educate you on who we are and what we do. Here are six things you might or might not know about our special breed.
1. Our training contract can start any damn time of the year.
Yes, we can start in April, June, September and even November. Training contracts in local government are not limited by the traditional intake times of law firms in the private sector. Local authorities do what they want when they want it. Kinda like Eric Cartman.
So, if you have a friend who suddenly breaks out the bubbly in the middle of May, announcing that they now have a training contract, please do not act all weird and surprised. Congratulate them because they are going to be future local government lawyers soon. Yay.
2. The Adult Social Care seat is filled with ordinary residence enquiries
Adult Social Care is usually the best seat to start with in a local government training contract. It is not as stressful as Child Care and not too procedural as planning, highways or commercial property. It is chilled, hippy-dippy, relaxed. Mostly. One thing a trainee does learn really quickly is that social workers and the finance department are always stressing out about ordinary residence enquiries and they want to pull the adult social care lawyers into their vortex of stress.
Ordinary residence enquiries are mainly about service users who are in the local authority's area and are in need of care and therefore funding. Sometimes there is a dispute with another local authority especially if said service users used to be in a different country and then moved to another county for all sorts of reasons including inflicting trainee solicitors with these enquiries.
The perusal of care and social worker notes, relevant legislation and the Holy Bible a.k.a. Care Act Guidance is the usual starting point for an unknowing but enthusiastic trainee. What looks like an easy Googling exercise and breezy practice in applying law to facts of the case will soon turn into a stress-inducing catastrophe of trying to understand the Cornwall and Shah judgments, the Care Act guidance, pre-Care Act legislation and the supervisor telling you one thing and your colleague another. And then there is the issue of pleasing the client.
Councils always want to save money. One pleases the client by telling them that the council will save money or will be able to recover money from somewhere. The finance department (a.k.a. the toughest client ever) will therefore argue with the trainee to the bitter end if said trainee did find that a service user is ordinarily resident in the county and the local council has to pay. Trainees will find that after drafting a wonderfully argued advice note and sending said note per email to client at around 16:30, the client has absolutely no qualms in phoning the tired trainee five seconds after to say that the trainee is wrong. Remember this is only council-speak for "I do not agree with you, you worthless piece of legal mind" and one should never take offence. Ideally. The now wise trainee will know how to stick to their guns and tell the client that the law is the law and will move on to another ordinary residence enquiry that will probably also include some confusing AF Section 117 after-care issues. Wine is needed at this point.
3. Child care seat is like the cardio-thoracic department of a hospital.
A trainee in the child care seat is one of two things: stressed and hating it OR stressed and thriving on it. Child care deals with some horrible cases involving poor little human beings in need of help. The work can emotionally take a toll but can also present a very good foundation for when a trainee qualifies later on and would like to become a formidable Child Care lawyer. There is the possibility to really become good at advocacy and let us be honest, that is the kick-ass bit of it all that trainees in local government crave. Kinda like cardio interns craving surgeries! Unlike arrogant cardio-thoracic doctors (I am basing this conclusion on Grey's Anatomy, of course), trainee solicitors and lawyers in children's are alright human beings with numerous court bundles constantly invading their desks and PLO's scheduled in their full calendars. Give them cake, they will smile for you and will have enough strength to go into another pre-proceeding meeting.
4. Members of the public either hate or love you with a passion.
It is a universally acknowledged truth that governments in whatever shape or form are the enemies of the people. Or at least the people think it so. Local councils, no matter how big or small, are not immune from this sentiment. Although local councils will almost always do things that are contrary to the mood and consensus of the public, some councils still find love in parts of the community. The elderly might love their local council for giving them great care and funding the care for them. The children and their parents might forgive a council's shortcomings because that playground in suburbia finally got built. The local businesses might still find a soft spot for their local council because parking laws are relaxed, allowing for people to stay long and shop longer. And a wide-eyed trainee will find that when people see their ID/badge and realise that they work for the council, members of the public are generally respectful and sympathetic to the problems that local governments face in light of a failing central government.
However, trainees are also in for a rude awakening especially if the local council they work for is a local council very much despised by the community. If a trainee works for a local council that has just closed down the local CAB, overspent on a building project, delayed road works, failed to act on traffic congestion problems and misinformed the community about the right time the Christmas lights are going to be turned on (god forbid we miss the lights!), then trainees will know better, hide their badges and say they work for Victim Support instead!
5. We do not really earn that much but we know what everybody else is earning.
The beauty of local government's salary system is the transparency. A trainee's salary may be lower than their counterpart in the private sector but a trainee in the public sector will always know how much the employee next to them is earning. This is because of the band system. You can ask anybody in the council about their band and when they tell you you will know at the very least their salary range. Mind you, nobody here is shy about their band.
By the time a trainee becomes an NQ, people will know exactly what band the NQ will be on and how much they will be earning year after year due to an approved system of yearly increments. There is no room for closed-door negotiations or raises. A government employee's salary is decided by a bunch of people in a scrutiny committee somewhere who apply relevant legislation and agree with HR at the end of the process. We got none of that bonus malarkey!
As trainees, I guess we do dream of that juicy starting salary of 20k or 30k a year and that massive bump in the second year. God knows it will solve a lot of money problems. However, local government trainee solicitors are a different breed altogether who possess a heart for public service and a thirst for the knowledge that comes along with working in a governing body.
6. Flexible Working Hours
THE. BEST. THING. EVER!
Of course, as trainees we cannot just work at home or work shorter hours willy-nilly. We need all sorts of forms and talks with our line managers but generally these things are possible and allow life to be a bit easier. It kinda makes up for the low salary and lack of bonuses.
Although there are core hours that a local government employee needs to be mindful of when planning their day, it is not a big deal to turn up at 8 AM on a Monday and at 9 AM the next day. The main thing is to do the work and do it well.
The next time you see a local government trainee solicitor, show them some love. They could be dealing with legal problems in relation to your nan's care needs and funding, your favourite pub's licensing application issues, your friend's child care problems and some really important parking decisions. You would want them to be on top of their game about these issues, so cake, wine and little hug never hurt anybody.