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My journey from law student to junior lawyer — and what I learnt along the way

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Hogan Lovells associate Ellie Thwaites discusses her route into the firm’s infrastructure, energy, resources and projects team, and why a year out both before and after university helped on her way

Hogan Lovells associate Ellie Thwaites

Despite not sitting in the group as a trainee, Hogan Lovells’ open qualification system allowed Ellie Thwaites to join the firm’s infrastructure, energy, resources and projects team as a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor.

Starting her training contract at Hogan Lovells in 2019, Thwaites sat in asset finance, real estate and funds, alongside a client secondment to British American Tobacco. When she came to qualify in February of this year, Thwaites took an open approach to where she wanted to qualify and ending up qualifying in a new practice area she hadn’t sat in as a trainee. Whilst not a typical route, “Hogan Lovells is refreshingly open-minded when it comes to its qualification system” she tells me, so it’s not uncommon for people to qualify into areas that they didn’t sit in as a trainee.

Thwaites was drawn to just how wide-reaching the group is — “it has a long name for a reason!”, she remarks. Indeed, Hogan Lovells’ cross-practice team work on a huge variety of international and domestic projects and transactions across the energy, infrastructure and natural resources sectors, at every stage of a project’s life cycle. As an NQ coming into this practice area then, there’s a “huge variety of work you can get involved with which makes for a really varied workload and to-do list day to day”, she tells me.

Sitting on the corporate wing of the team, Thwaites splits her time between construction work and the commercial side of projects including the sales and purchases of project equity and assisting funds in owning and managing such infrastructure and energy assets. The team is understandably popular among trainees because it’s very “up and coming” and very much sector driven. So, for example, “if you had a particular interest in an emerging market in Africa, you could come with that interest and really carve out your own path in that if you wanted”, Thwaites explains.

Now eight months into the associate role, she describes how the obvious main difference has been the degree of responsibility, as she now typically reports directly to a partner or client, rather than just assisting. Thwaites says:

“For example, as a trainee you can have that room for uncertainty in your answers and are able to say, well the answer could be this because of XYZ… but the answer could also be this. However, when you’re getting that task directly from a client or partner, you can’t have that uncertainty, so there’s an extra layer of pressure.”

Applications for Hogan Lovells’ Winter Vacation Scheme 2021 close on 31 October 2021

Careers advice

For aspiring solicitors on the lookout for training contracts, Thwaites’ advises not to underestimate the value of pro bono work. “Doing pro bono work shows that you’re proactive and willing to do things outside your studies or work, and you’ll also come to the firm as a more well-rounded lawyer,” she says. It doesn’t matter that the nature of the work is often very different to corporate law, such as involving family or criminal law for example, “it’s just as relevant and just as helpful as any commercial experience, because it’s about the transferable skills you’ve learnt from it. And it’s obviously a great way to support the local community with your legal knowledge throughout your studies and beyond which is something fully supported by Hogan Lovells”.

Thwaites’ passion for pro bono was also one of the main reasons she set her sights on Hogan Lovells, along with the “culture and great people”. Describing her experience at the firm, she tells me:

“What they say they do, they put into practice — it’s a really friendly, supportive firm which is also very good at what it does. Hogan Lovells strikes a great balance between having a collegiate culture, without compromising how good we are at what we do. The positive impressions I had of the firm and its culture from the training contract and vacation scheme application process have definitely remained throughout the four and a half years since my vacation scheme.”

Finally, Thwaites would encourage aspiring solicitors to worry less about the race to get a training contract or to qualify as a solicitor. She continues, “because I only applied for training contracts in my final year of university and I had a year out before university, I was technically two years behind schedule, but as soon as you join a firm, you realise there is no schedule, and I was actually one of the youngest people here”. This additional year after university also allowed Thwaites to gain extra work experience and take up a role in the trade finance team at Societe Generale — a French bank which offers graduate opportunities for future and/or aspiring trainees prior to commencing their training contracts.

Reflecting on her journey to qualifying at Hogan Lovells, she concludes:

“I worried that I was behind because I had a year out both before and after university, but that really wasn’t the case and I think lots of firms, including Hogan Lovells, would not see any time spent before joining the firm as a waste and appreciate people that have done other things before joining the firm. I have colleagues who have worked in a wide range of industries before joining Hogan Lovells and it just adds to the dynamic and skillset of a team to have a mix of backgrounds and experience.”

Applications for Hogan Lovells’ Winter Vacation Scheme 2021 close on 31 October 2021

Ellie Thwaites will be speaking alongside other Hogan Lovells lawyers during ‘Coming together on a deal: understanding full-service global law firms — with Hogan Lovells’, a virtual student event taking place on Monday 18 October. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.

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