This year was the fourth year of the Gerard Maye Legal Client Interviewing Competition at the University of Brighton. Prior to the competition, students took part in a series of workshops led by Law Lecturer Jeanette Ashton which covered communication styles; active and passive listening; question techniques; advising the client on the relevant area of law and exploring both legal and non-legal options. Alongside having the chance to practise these vital skills, students had the opportunity to quiz guest Sue Warwick (local Private Client solicitor) on her interviewing experiences. Patrick Kershaw, one of last year’s winners came along to share his experiences of participating in the competition and gave the students lots of helpful tips.
The theme of this year’s competition as set by the Law Society, who sponsor the national event, was Family Partnerships, a change from the previous two themes which focused on commercial issues. Two pairs of ‘solicitors’ Marlon Cameron and Debbie Thomas (postgraduate law students) and Chloe Chatton and Fionnuala Richardson (final year undergraduate law students), advised ‘client’ Alex Swetman on a very tricky situation involving both relationship difficulties and a family business. Gerard Maye (Criminal Defence solicitor) and John Searby (Civil Litigation solicitor), both from Gerard Maye Legal and Patrick judged the competition. John said it was difficult enough obtaining the key information from clients in his office but that the competitors had managed to do so in front of an audience!
Once again, the judges said how impressed they had been with the quality of the interviewing and how well both pairs had done in building a rapport with their client, listening to his problem, asking insightful questions and providing sensible advice. Gerry commented “The standard for the competition has reached a new high. Each year, we are seeing talented students battle it out for first place, putting the judges in a very difficult position. The skill set is outstanding right across the board. Individually, they show real promise as aspiring lawyers.” Patrick enjoyed being on the panel saying “it was great to come back to Client Interviewing which is an exceptionally well run and popular competition available to all Brighton law students. The standard despite the differences in respective life experience was exceptional and picking a winner was extremely tough. Although my colleague and I missed out on going further on into the nationals, I’m sure Chloe and Fionnuala will carry the torch forward!”
Fionnuala and Chloe were delighted to win. Commenting on the programme as a whole, Fionnuala said “I found the experience really interesting as it provided huge insight into a significant aspect of a solicitor’s role along with gaining knowledge on interviewing skills and techniques in the pre-competition sessions with Jeanette. I particularly enjoyed the personal aspect of client interviewing where we were able to understand the client, along with their goals, motives and desired outcomes of the session.” Runner up Marlon also commended the programme, saying “for me the client interviewing competition vividly brought to life the practicalities of law, which after all exists to solve people’s problems”. Marlon’s ‘solicitor’ partner Debbie was pleased to have reached the final, saying “taking part in the legal client interviewing competition has been an exhilarating experience. I’d jump at the chance to take part again.”
Students gain work experience
Winning pair Fionnuala and Chloe as well as receiving book tokens, now have the opportunity to undertake work experience with Gerard Maye Legal, an experience which Patrick found invaluable “whilst Gerard Maye primarily specialises in criminal law, what I found so helpful in the conversations I had with Gerry during my work experience, was his keen insight into the legal sector as a whole. During my two weeks I was given interesting cases to read and I was treated like a full-time employee by everyone at the firm. John and Gerry gave excellent feedback as to where I might want to head next and it’s obvious that the firm have a genuine interest in opening the door to aspiring lawyers.”
Fionnuala and Chloe will now go on to represent the University of Brighton in the Law Society regional heats which the University of Brighton is hosting in February.