VIDEO: My training contract with Herbert Smith Freehills

James Robson explains how his training contract helped him secure his dream role in the litigation department
Law school and training contracts

I've always been particularly interested in litigation and Herbert Smith Freehills has an excellent reputation for getting some of the best litigation work with really interesting clients. During my training contract I was able to tailor my seats to ensure I got the most exposure to litigation work.

The training contract

The training contract at Herbert Smith Freehills involves four six-month seats. I sat in corporate, solvency finance, litigation and went on secondment to Singapore, where I also sat in litigation. While I was on secondment there Herbert Smith had just merged with the Australian firm Freehills and Singapore was the only place where Freehills and Herbert Smith both had an office. So it was a really interesting time to be there because Singapore was the only place in the world where the two firms physically merged and now they share the same office.

My work

While I was sat in the litigation department Herbert Smith Freehills were acting for energy corporation Chevron, who own part of WAPCo - a company that operates a crucial gas pipeline off the west coast of Africa. I helped out on a dispute between WAPCo and one of their contractors and I was lucky enough to come in during the end of the disclosure phase so I had quite a lot of responsibility preparing a witness statement.

Then when I was sat in the corporate department I was lucky enough to come in when the sale of HS1 was completing. HS1 is the company that owns the high speed train routes between St Pancras and the Channel Tunnel. It was one of the big assets of the government, and we ended up selling it to a Canadian pension fund. Obviously, as a trainee the actual work you're doing is relatively restricted - because you're still quite inexperienced - yet you still feel like you're able to contribute to a wider goal. I would say that aspect of it was something I found rewarding.

For me, part of your job during the training contract is about getting known for being a safe pair of hands or showing you're capable of doing stuff. I think six months is a good amount of time to spend in a seat so you can really make that impression. For example, I was sat with a partner who was willing to give me stuff which would have perhaps ordinarily gone to a junior associate. It really gave me an idea of what it would be like to be a newly qualified associate at Herbert Smith Freehills - which is important when it comes to your qualification choices.

The skills I've learnt

When you apply for your training contract, everyone talks about having commercial awareness. When I was applying for training contracts, I thought that meant reading the FT. During my training contract I realised that commercial awareness is about putting yourself in the shoes of the person you're giving advice to and thinking, commercially, what would they do? What do they want to know? What would be the effect of this action on their business, why would they want to do this? That should always be the focus of your enquiries or your analysis or your work, I think.

The support I've had

I always had a very good experience with feedback and support. We have a trainee development centre where you spend a couple of days out of the office working your way through scenarios, preparing you for things that may come up in your working life. Before I went, I was questioning how useful it would be but actually it gives you the chance to think about where your training contract is going and what you might want to do over the next seat to further your chances of qualification.

The future

I recently qualified as a junior associate in the energy disputes department. Now that I have qualified I work very closely with a partner and I feel that that I have more responsibility over certain aspects of a trial. I also feel I have a greater ability to shape the direction of a dispute - even if it's just providing input or giving ideas.

At Herbert Smith Freehills I get to work with international clients with gas and oil assets - things the world economy is dependent on. It's because many of these international energy clients choose to resolve disputes in the English high court because they know the UK court system has a reputation for impartiality. It's exciting because it means you get lots of these interesting contracts which are made outside of the country, involve assets which are not based in the UK, but the disputes find themselves coming back to London.