Professional Training Year

Bunmi Sobowale, Current PTY Student 

Why did you choose to do a Professional Training Year?

When I started my law degree, I wasn’t sure as to the path that I wanted to take, be it a barrister, a solicitor, or any other field where I could still incorporate law into. I didn’t even know if I was still going to pursue a career in law as I was just starting out, and I had no prior experience in law at all. I didn’t intend to do a Professional Training Year – I had never even heard of it until I started 2nd Year, where we were all sent an email about the chance to undertake a placement. I would say that I chose to do a Professional Training Year for 2 reasons – for the exposure, and to determine whether this was a career path that I really wanted to go down. For exposure, like previously stated, I had no experience in law at all, and so I wanted to have an opportunity where I could see how the law is applied in reality, as opposed to the fictional scenarios presented in textbooks which though are helpful, does not provide the full picture of what the law is like. And for the career path, I’d always hear these stereotypes (not to mention TV shows) of lawyers with piles of paper over them, working until midnight and really didn’t want that to be true! I wanted to work alongside solicitors and find out what their day-to-day life is like and whilst there is some element of truth in the stereotype (like with piles of paper), it really is rewarding work.

How did you find the application process? 

It definitely wasn’t easy. At the time when I was applying for placements, we were at the peak of the pandemic and so a lot of places that would usually offer placements were either closed or closing down, or they were not accepting new people into their offices or they were completely remote. Half of my first year and all of second year were spent indoors due to the many lockdowns, so when I was applying for placements, I ideally wanted a place where I could go into a physical workspace. I also wanted a placement in London as that is where I live, but unfortunately, London was recording very high cases, which made it even more difficult. However, after months of searching, I finally got an offer from a solicitor’s firm, which is where I completed my placement.

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

I completed my 30-week placement at Burke Niazi Solicitors in Islington, North London. I worked in the Mental Health Law Department as an intern. Mental Health Law covers people detained under section in hospital, or subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 in the community (referred to as a ‘Community Treatment Order’ or CTO for short) for treatment when they are deemed too unwell. They are assessed by 2 doctors approved under the Act and by an Approved Mental Health Professional. When these people are in hospital and they want to appeal against their section or CTO so that they can leave hospital or no longer be subject to a CTO, they would contact us and we would apply to the Mental Health Tribunal (provided they are eligible) so that we can present their case to a panel. We represented those under civil sections, like Section 2 clients (who are in hospital for 28 days) and Section 3 clients (who are in hospital for 6 months), along with forensic clients, who are in hospital either because the court deemed them too unwell to serve their sentence in a prison, or because whilst in prison, they were deemed too unwell to stay there. As an intern, I would act as the first point of contact, taking instructions from the client, visiting them in hospital to go through reports, to represent them at the less formal hearings and to liaise with their care team. I also took enquiries for our Housing, Community Care and Court of Protection departments, and did court clerking (both remote and in person) for the Family and Court of Protection departments.

What do you think you gained from the experience?

I do not even know where to begin with what I learnt on my placement, honestly. One thing is client interaction. Mental health is really personal and you cannot fully understand a client until you see them in person. A lot of the time, the patient won’t be able to trust you unless they actually see you. With that, I have learnt how to speak to different people, from young teenagers to the elderly. I have also learned that the legal world is not so black and white as we see in our textbooks, in the context of ‘the offender and offended’. I like criminal law and I can honestly say that since working at Burke Niazi, I have never read the report of a ‘criminal’ who did not go through some kind of turmoil in their childhood. And no, this does not excuse what they have done, but it shows a very clear pattern in what many abused children end up doing when they become adults. I have learnt to be empathetic without becoming too attached, as any personal feelings could affect a case. I have learned not to judge my client, no matter how difficult they may be. I have learned the importance of working in a team, as I had the advantage of always having someone in the office to ask if I had any issues, and I have learned to be more confident when speaking to professionals despite being the youngest in the meeting. 

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

This might sound cliché, but if you are applying to placements and you are not finding a place, you just have to keep trying. I started applying to placements in November 2020, and I only got accepted to Burke Niazi in March 2021. I remember joining a Surrey Alumni session in January and one student said that you just have to keep trying until you get it, and I didn’t believe him. In my case, there were so many deadlines approaching – Student Finance, module picking and I had just been rejected from student accommodation and I still didn’t have a placement. But I kept checking Pathfinder, and it turns out that one of my closest friends from Surrey had also been accepted to Burke Niazi. Your experience does not just have to be in a law firm – there are so many opportunities you can get outside a law firm that still involve the law. If you are hesitating, definitely go for a placement! It’s better to have the experience down on your CV. But do not be afraid to email anybody that might be able to help you, as you never know if that person will have an opportunity waiting for you.

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