Professional Training Year

Yuenixa Sooriyathasan, Current PTY Student 

Why did you choose to do a Professional Training Year?

I chose to do a Professional Training Year, as I wanted more experience in the legal sector. I previously did not have any experience and thought a year dedicated to working would be an effective way to help me refine my career ambitions in the future. Furthermore, due to the COVID-19 restrictions in the previous academic year and having to adapt to online learning, there were occasions where I was less interested in my academics. I felt that pursing a placement year would allow me to take a break from this, re-establish my interest in law and improve my state of mind before going into my final year. 

How did you find the application process? 

As I made more progress with my applications, I was more determined to finish them well. For my National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) application, I initially had to prepare a cover letter detailing why I was suitable for the role and a CV. I sought help from the Surrey placement team to perfect my CV and get a second opinion on my cover letter. I felt more optimistic to apply after hearing this feedback, as it helped me understand how to strengthen my application. I submitted my application in November 2020, but did not get a response from the employer for a few months. I enquired with a follow-up email in January 2021, and was reassured that further interviews were to come soon.

In March 2021, I had a brief telephone interview, where I had the opportunity to briefly speak about my previous work experiences and discuss how I would handle potential challenges within the new role, such as handling angry clients. The employer and I also discussed practical aspects of the work, such as how I would travel to the office and where I would be commuting from. I was invited for a written assessment, where I had to correct grammar and spelling mistakes in a statement, and write my own, based off of an audio recording. 

In the middle of March 2021, I did a video interview. This lasted around 40 minutes, and I had another opportunity to speak about my experiences. I prepared for this by previously attending a group mock interview arranged by the placement team and prepared answers to the interview questions given as examples. I was asked many similar questions in my actual interview, so I felt confident during the interview. In May 2021, I was offered the placement.

What type of work did you get to do on your placement? 

Being a Caseworker was my primary role at the NCDV. I called Applicants, who were representing themselves in the proceedings as litigants in persons, and prepared their witness statements, which was their evidence for their injunction application. Initially, I confirmed the Applicant and Respondent’s basic information, such as name spellings and addresses, for the paperwork. I also checked whether the applicant wanted to keep any information confidential from the Respondent, and prepared the additional confidential information paperwork. I would explain what they could expect during the proceedings if their application was made on a without or on-notice basis. I ensured my explanations were clear and gave Applicants the opportunity to ask questions, especially if they needed more reassurance. The statement required a chronological timeline of abusive incidents or controlling and threatening behaviour throughout the relationship. I had to ensure the details were clear and factual, and helped Applicants understand how to prepare additional supporting evidence, such as photographs, alongside their statement. I often completed occupational orders alongside the non-molestation order. This required other information, such as the housing resources of each party, their financial abilities, and effect of relevant children in the home, to be considered. 

Once I had completed the paperwork for my Applicant, I ensured that all the information was spelt correctly and prepared the additional confidential information paperwork, if necessary. 

Other responsibilities in my role included calling back applicants for queries on statements completed by volunteers. I occasionally completed further witness statements, for applicants applying for extensions of their orders. These required similar details, such as when and what the Respondent did to breach the order whilst it was in place. 

In March 2022, after my contract was extended, I did additional work with the “First Steps” department for two mornings each week. This involved calling applicants who were referred to the organisation, and assess whether a non-molestation order would be suitable for them. For this, I had to ensure there was a sufficient association between the parties, and there was a history of controlling or abusive behaviour. I would inform them about the Court process, and assess their eligibility for free legal aid. If not, I informed them about the litigant in person alternative, which is free of charge. 

What do you think you gained from the experience?

Although I sometimes found the application process challenging, and doubted pursuing a placement year on some occasions, it was a good opportunity to improve my professional development. Even if I had not got a placement, the support from the placements team, and the opportunity to practice my interview and preparation skills, has been valuable. Having applied for a placement year, I feel more confident with future job applications.

I am grateful that I have been able to do a placement year. It has been a good opportunity to experience applying the law in a real-life context, despite my role not being directly involved with solicitor or barrister work. The nature of the work, and having to help people who were often vulnerable, helped me appreciate the relevance of my work, and made me more determined to commit to it. The experience has allowed me to strengthen my understanding of civil law and, through understanding the application processes for various civil orders, what protection it offers vulnerable people. My role has allowed me to develop several skills, such as concise and clear writing and interpersonal skills, which will benefit my future academic and professional work. I have developed practical and personal skills, such as time management and discipline. Overall, the experience has made me more confident in an academic, professional and personal sense. 

If you could give any piece of advice to future placement students, what would it be? 

Even if you are not sure about pursuing a placement, I think it is important to remind yourself about the support and resources that are available to you through the University. Becoming familiar with the application process for any role is an invaluable experience to have. Even if you are not successful with your applications, you still have the experience of the preparation. Personally, I found it hard to speak about myself and prior experiences, and how they would benefit me in a workplace, but I feel more comfortable doing this now. 

Also, I think it is beneficial to keep track of placement opportunities that interest you, and ensure you know what the application entails and deadline dates. This helped me be more organised with my applications and gave me a list of options I could consider without feeling overwhelmed by the number of other opportunities on pathfinder.  I think it is also important to keep looking for opportunities throughout the year, and to not stop looking even if you are unsure whether you will do a placement or you have already secured an interview.  I found it reassuring to look for other opportunities throughout the early stages of my interview process with NCDV. If I was unsuccessful, I would not have felt too discouraged as I already found alternative opportunities I could pursue.

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