Joshua Coates is a second-seat trainee who studied Law at Bristol and currently works in dispute resolution, with a focus on energy and construction.
An uncommon path
I had a bit of an unusual route to the firm. I was on a year abroad in Helsinki for my course, and while I was out there, I was part of an international moot, which is a huge extended competition where law students from all over the world learn arbitration skills. In the process, there were various events at different offices in Warsaw, Stockholm, and Vienna - and that’s where I met Norton Rose Fulbright.
What struck me is that, compared to other firms I met, the people from Norton Rose Fulbright seemed like whole, rounded people. They had a lot more to talk about than just work, and I just connected with them very quickly.
I think that’s probably indicative of the process: if you find a firm that you click with, then it’s more than likely they’ll click with you too.
For me, vacation schemes are a fantastic opportunity to gain some commercial experience – but they’re not the only way. I didn’t do any vacation schemes with any firm, but if you can demonstrate that you’re interested in commercial and corporate law and you’ve gained experience one way or another, the firm will appreciate that.
Exposure – from the interview onward
My training contract interview itself was conventional – right up until the end, when they give you the opportunity to ask your own questions. I’d worked in Helsinki, so I wanted to ask something about the firm’s Nordic work. The only problem was, my interviewing partner didn’t know the answer.
This isn’t the kind of firm to give you a fluffy or dishonest answer though – so he reached into the centre of the table, picked up the conference phone, and passed me the receiver to talk directly to Tomas Gärdfors, head of the Nordic practice.
You do get a lot of exposure at this firm. In my first seat – project finance in the energy sector – I was being given what was almost junior associate level work. An associate would sit down with a document they’d recently produced, explain to me what it did, what they needed it to do in this case, and then I’d go away and take a first punt at drafting a new version.
Of course, invariably my draft would come back covered in red pen – but that’s how you learn. I haven’t had something come back yet without pen on it, but that’s okay. Reassuringly, I saw a mid-level associate hand in a bigger document to a partner recently, and it came back covered in red pen too. It doesn't stop. The documents and the challenges you work on just get harder – and you learn, all the time.
Moving into new seats
I’m in a disputes seat now, but again in energy and construction. It’s quite a different culture because in a dispute, yes, you’re trying to settle but that’s not always at the forefront. It’s more adversarial.
I landed in the middle of a disclosure process, which is where you review the client’s documents to decide what might be relevant to the case and what isn’t privileged so should be disclosed to the other side. It’s hundreds of thousands of documents to review and months to do it in. At first, that was a steep curve.
It’s incredibly interesting though because my first two seats were in the same sector, the same market. It effectively meant I was seeing a project at another stage in its lifecycle. In project finance I’d been focussed on the beginnings of life for a project, but this was about the obstacles you can encounter along the way. So even if I go back to being a transactional lawyer, it’s helpful to have that knowledge; to be thinking at the outset about how to safeguard the success of your project.
Support to improve
The biggest thing that I’ve learned is: things do go wrong sometimes, but mistakes can always be fixed. I went into my first seat – as I think trainees do everywhere – quite worried that if I made a mistake, that would be it; I’d be out the door. But that’s not the case. I made a mistake in an agreement that went out to the client and it was signed before I noticed. I panicked, obviously. But I came forward with it straight away and the way the firm approached it was to ask me how to fix it.
The thing is, the partners and associates already knew, really, and they weren’t worried. But they asked me to think it through and I worked out that we’d need to draft an amendment, so they set me on that to help me learn for the future.
I later came to learn that things change so fast here that most agreements are amended anyway, so it wasn’t that big a mistake – but I learned a lot from it. And the biggest thing is just to be honest, so that people can help you.
We’re very supportive of each other as a team, and the firm is supportive of us too. To give you an example, I’m doing a triathlon at Blenheim Palace this weekend. We raised money together for Save the Children and the firm paid our entry fees to help us. There are fifteen of us altogether - trainees, partners, colleagues from the business services side of the business - all training and cheering each other on. All abilities are welcome too, which is just as well, because this will be my first one. Wish me luck.