Ryan Hooton joined Stewarts as a paralegal in July 2017. Three and a half years, two seats, and one global pandemic later, he is now a third seat trainee in Competition Litigation and will qualify in October 2021.
Studying law had always intrigued me. I fit the cliché of having ‘always wanted to be a lawyer’ throughout my time at school in Nottingham. Once I began to study law at the University of Leeds, like most, I had idealistic aspirations of international and criminal work. It wasn’t until after graduating that my interest in both litigation and commercial work was piqued.
Placements and vacation schemes
I took a year out after university to take stock and gain some practical experience. An in-house placement with the M&S commercial contracts team in London revealed the extensive and somewhat unexpected variety of commercial legal work. While with the company, I managed to gain ever-exciting court experience (attending the successful appeal of a prohibitory injunction). After that experience, I swiftly signed up to complete my Legal Practice Course with the intention of pursuing a commercial legal role.
My interest in litigation built the following summer on a vacation scheme at Nabarro LLP (now CMS) in their Infrastructure, Construction and Energy department, with a focus on contentious construction. While I was unsuccessful in gaining a training contract at the end of the scheme, my first extended experience of private practice set expectations of the kind of firm and work I wanted and what was expected of me. It also taught me what I needed to improve. At that point, this was managing expectations and the quality of my office work. I consoled myself with a few months travelling the South East Asian backpacker’s circuit before relocating to London.
My chapter with Stewarts as a paralegal starts here. Drawn to the variety of high-profile cases Stewarts acted on, I wanted to experience high-value litigation in action. At this point, I was nervous at not yet having secured a training contract but eager to work on the areas that had previously let me down. Spending time as a paralegal built a comprehensive skillset through practical experience and refined my aspirations for life post-qualification. Under the supervision of Head of Securities Litigation Keith Thomas, I learnt from some of the firm’s leading commercial disputes lawyers, giving me a taste of what I might expect. Before starting my training contract, I experienced complex and high-value fraud, cartel damages and securities cases.
Stewarts recruits trainees exclusively from its paralegals, and so each day is an opportunity to impress. My applications for training contracts at this point (as with my application to Nabarro’s vacation scheme a few years earlier) were targeted at firms I consider had the same ethos as Stewarts. I believe knowledge of and a demonstrable commitment to a firm is key at this stage, and it is easier to convey this on your applications when you focus on only a few firms. My focus was Stewarts.
Training during a pandemic
Following my successful application, my first seat commenced in October 2019 with Head of Personal Injury Paul Paxton. With each solicitor running their own cases, I enjoyed the increased responsibility and client contact I was afforded. From March/April 2020, as Covid-19 took hold, my ‘virtual’ training began in the Aviation and International Injury department with Partner Scott Rigby.
It is vital to do well in every seat of your training contract, to learn from and impress the team around you. You want them to know that you are willing, hardworking and engaged. That is difficult to do when you are behind a screen at home. With home/work boundaries now blurred, it is easy to find yourself working into evenings and over lunch. Nevertheless, amid the monotony of the pandemic, it is vital that you take breaks and stop working when your workday would normally end. Finding a balance between working hard while allowing yourself the necessary downtime is difficult when working remotely but is essential for your wellbeing.
My current seat with Partner Inge Forster in Competition Litigation has seen a number of high-pressure court deadlines. I have found it impressive how well the team and I have adapted to working remotely and efficiently to meet those deadlines and ensure that the wheels of litigation are not interrupted.
Training during a pandemic has taught me a number of things. First, the importance of communicating regularly and often with your colleagues, both socially and work-related, in order to maintain a collective sense of purpose. Secondly, it has allowed me to train in and adapt to an environment where some aspects of our ‘new normal’ seem set to be maintained by the legal profession in the future. Finally, with everyday activities now limited to work and essential shopping, it has proven just how important it is that you are happy in your career.
As I approach my final seat in Commercial Litigation and life as a newly qualified solicitor, I am confident the skills I developed as a paralegal and refined as a trainee have prepared me to be a litigator. I am grateful to have experienced practice areas before commencing my training contract, informing my decisions upon qualification. By this point, perhaps, our lives may also be back to something that more closely resembles ‘normal’.
I have always felt that I am valued at Stewarts, which is testament to the culture nurtured under Managing Partner John Cahill’s leadership. However, during LGBT+ History Month, I would be amiss not to also credit members of the LGBT+ community before me that fought so that they, and I, can feel welcomed today. Navigating the stress of securing a training contract is difficult enough without hiding who you are. Fortunately, it is not a concern I have had to bear. Further still, I am grateful to have an LGBT+ mentor, Head of Financial Crime David Savage, who provides invaluable advice, guidance and friendship.
To give back to the LGBT+ community, I involve myself with the firm’s diversity and inclusion efforts as a Diversity Champion. I am taking the first steps to mentor younger members of the community to ensure that everybody, regardless of their sexuality, gender identity or any other characteristic, feels confident and supported in reaching their goals.
During LGBT+ History Month, it is important to reflect on the journey of the LGBT+ community, both in the UK and abroad. Informative resources can be found on both the LGBT+ History Month website and Stonewall’s website. The community and their allies can network at events such as those held by Interlaw Diversity Forum and myGwork.
Stewarts Career Stories
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