From Halliwells To BLG To Clyde & Co To Buddhism In Two Years: A Trainee’s Journey In A Shaky Legal Market

By Marc Piano on

Marc Piano says Halliwells’ collapse contributed to his decision to pursue some time out practising Buddhism in South East Asian monasteries.

When it became clear that Halliwells’ insurance litigation team intended to transfer to Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (BLG), I drafted up a business case (read: begging letter) for them to take me with them and gave it to my former supervisor. If I was going anywhere, I wanted to go with my colleagues from the team I had spent most time in.

At that point, the position of trainees – and everybody else – was far from clear. Indeed, the situation seemed to change daily. I wasn’t sure what, if anything, was being done about the trainees; communications were sketchy to non-existent from the top at first, rumours abounded and I wasn’t prepared to wait and assume all would come out OK in the end.

Since I was in a corporate seat at the time – equity partner heavy with an excellent department manager – we were kept very well-informed as the carve-up of the firm’s practice areas began to take shape. Sheffield and Liverpool offices were going to Hill Dickinson. Manchester insurance litigation was going to BLG. London and Manchester commercial were going to…nobody was quite sure yet.

Fellow trainees were not so well informed, and in the face of uncertainty we stuck together and kept each other as updated as we could. Unfortunately, those responsible for us weren’t kept in the loop as fully as perhaps they should have been, so questions about the fate of the trainees were unable to be answered authoritatively.

We were eventually asked to prepare for the termination of our training contracts by completing Form TC3 (I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I hope you never have to complete it). There remained no confirmation of where we were all going – if anywhere. The trainees were deeply dissatisfied with the position. We were soon informed that – unlike almost everyone else in the firm – the Manchester trainees had the luxury of choice as to whether to transfer to Gateley (commercial) or BLG (insurance).

By this stage I’d already made my decision, so departed on a planned trip to Italy to see family – relieved that my position appeared to be sorted, but worried and concerned for friends and colleagues whose fates were not yet determined. I couldn’t get away from the office fast enough – the weeks of rumours and uncertainty had taken their toll on morale. Having ended up in hospital twice with depression the year before, I have no idea how I managed to avoid sinking into it this time. The weeks felt like months. The day the landlords switched off the lifts and air-conditioning due to unpaid rents didn’t help the situation either (they were soon forced to reinstate services).

While abroad, BLG initially said they couldn’t take trainees as they couldn’t fulfil the non-contentious requirement of the training. However, assurances were made and five of us were, in the end, made formal offers. The partner organising the staff side of things even phoned me in Milan to make the offer – despite a trillion and one other things he had to do. When I checked the legal press a few days after the handover, I was upset to read of many support staff redundancies, and the news that future trainees had had their TCs canned. All Manchester trainees transferred to the respective firms, although one left shortly after to pursue a business opportunity. The Sheffield and Liverpool trainees transferred, while in London one trainee went to Gateley and two were let go. But thanks to the efforts of a London Halliwells partner, those two trainees ended up at Clifford Chance!

When I returned from Italy, my old supervisor took me back for a few months while the new trainee system got up on its feet. Then in September I started my second seat proper, at my second firm.

As the months passed, the dust gradually settled from Halliwells and we got used to being BLG Manchester. Things seemed to be going pretty well and from a trainee perspective we’d been well-received by the London graduate recruitment/training team and fellow trainees.

Then in 2011 events led to the announcement that BLG and Clyde & Co would merge. Aww c’mon, we’d just got settled and were winning clients and work as BLG! Happily, the transition was a lot smoother than last time, we were better informed and us five Manchester trainees stuck together as before, but none of this stopped my neuroticism kicking in with regard to the trainee transfer process.

During all of this, I started to question whether fee-earning was for me. The enjoyment and satisfaction from the work I’d reaped as a paralegal and early in my training contract was waning. I don’t know whether it was the effect of events, me just accepting the mundane reality of fee-earning in private practice, or a combination of the two. Either way, the idea of qualification and a career in private practice was no longer stirring the interest as it once had. On the other hand, my interest in business development and marketing – my previous work before entering law – remained high and I was trying to assist on business development matters wherever possible.

On the third hand (if that’s possible…), I was becoming increasingly interested in Buddhism, to the point where I wanted to explore the practice more and visit Buddhist monasteries and teachers in Asia. I was even considering monasticism. Three firms in two years was illustrative of the Buddhist teaching on impermanence!

I decided not to apply for a position on qualification. I am very happy to report that my fellow trainees at Clyde & Co Manchester were all deservedly offered – and accepted – jobs in their desired departments. From what I understand, the majority of the former Halliwells trainees who transferred ended up in NQ positions at either their transferred firms or at other firms after training. Many of the then-future trainees – capable enough to have secured training contracts in the first place – sourced another training contract, and in several cases they were at the firms that took parts of Halliwells, with a later start date.

Now I work in business development for QLTS School, which offers preparation courses for international lawyers seeking to sit the assessments to dual-qualify as English solicitors. I find the blend of my legal education and training along with my marketing experience to be very useful, and it makes the job thoroughly enjoyable.

Fortunately, I can do a lot of the work remotely, so I am able to travel around South East Asia and spend time in monasteries and in meditation. Things are pretty damn good right now. As for monasticism – I still intend to spend an extended period in a monastery in England at some point in 2013 or 2014. I may well end up taking up the precepts and living the life of a Buddhist monk!