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How approachable partners can make all the difference during your training contract

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By Natalie Kaminski on

Open plan office, team nights out and annual ski trip set the tone, RPC rookie tells Legal Cheek Careers

Jonathan Greenway, a second seat trainee in RPC’s tax litigation team believes that students don’t always pay sufficient attention to the culture of individual law firms. In particular, the interaction between those at junior and senior levels is “incredibly important”, to the extent that “everyone should take it into account when they apply for a training contract”, he says.

Often wannabe trainees think about work hours, international opportunities and salary rates before they consider partner approachability.

Greenway (pictured above) was no different. “I must admit, partner approachability wasn’t something on my radar,” he says of his time applying for training contracts. Instead he targeted RPC on the basis of its “excellent reputation in litigation and the fact that it’s such an innovative firm”. Since then partner approachability has become more closely analysed, with RPC one of a handful of firms to score an A* in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey.

Now Greenway, a History graduate from Oxford University, is of the view that he wouldn’t have had the opportunities he’s enjoyed if it wasn’t for the ease with which he could approach his superiors. In his first weeks as a trainee, he was doing mediation work and asked a partner to help him untangle a complex aggregation issue. This led to an invite to come along to the mediation itself, which led to more invites. He explains:

I showed an interest because I felt the partner was friendly and engaging — perhaps I wouldn’t have pursued these interests if I didn’t feel that the partners were approachable.

To get the most out of your training contract, Greenway advises trainees to approach partners to ask for work that reflects their interests. No doubt the progressive open plan office and mixed pods system at RPC has a part to play in enabling this level of interaction.

Personally, Greenway says he likes it: “You can learn a lot from a lot of people”. The open plan offers a “flat hierarchy”, where everyone “is in there together” and “can see what everyone is doing at all levels” in the firm. You get to brush shoulders with “different people at all times”, and this is a useful opportunity to learn on the job.

Within this setup partners are “a direct touch stone”. The best pieces of advice that an RPC partner has given Greenway are “to be a consummate professional at all times”, and to “be switched on and engaged”. Greenway adds:

Not everyone will trust you with complicated work, so show interest and do your work with enthusiasm, and you’ll be given better work in the future.

He also urges future trainees to “take care of whatever work is given to you because it’s always important to someone”. No doubt the shared office helps trainees to listen in on partner’s words of wisdom.

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That’s not to say that the open plan system doesn’t present its challenges. Greenway says “you’re a visible resource” at all times and “always available to take tasks, so the challenge is managing work load”. This can be more difficult when you “want to get your head down and do a solid few hours of work”.

But the perks outweigh the downsides. Partners are “very happy” to give feedback on an “informal basis” and “invite questions”. Greenway says that he regularly meets his supervising partner for a coffee to review his work. Trainees also go for lunch with partners and there’s even a drinks trolley that comes round the office once a month.

The fun doesn’t stop at the office. This year Greenway got the chance to go to London’s swanky Hilton hotel for the Tolley’s Taxation Awards, where he enjoyed a four course meal with the partners and then went out with them to celebrate winning an award.

Greenway somehow bagged himself the opportunity to organise the firm’s annual skiing trip this year, which includes trainees and partners alike. He says that where they’ll be jetting off to is “still under negotiation” but that he’d like to go back to Italy, where they hit the slopes last year. They even had party goodie bags that included “face paint, neon pink costumes and glow sticks”. If this doesn’t make partners more approachable back at the office, we don’t know what does!

Greenway adds that one day he’d like to become a partner himself and reports that the RPC partners have provided him with a “wealth of inspiration”. He says that the partners don’t conform to a particular type and that this just goes to show that “you can reach the top and still be yourself — you don’t have to fit the cookie cutter mould”.

Get an insight into the life of RPC trainees through their uncensored Twitter account, @LifeInALawFirm.

RPC’s training contract application deadline is on 31 July. Find out more.

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