What makes a trainee solicitor tick?

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I had the great pleasure of interviewing George Demirev recently. George is one of this firm’s up and coming commercial lawyers. He is about to qualify as a solicitor and he has already proved himself to be an outstanding lawyer, who has a distinct ‘can do’ attitude to life and work. I hope you enjoy reading his account as much as I enjoyed hearing it, Nicholas Bevan.

A trainee solicitor’s experience, featuring George Demirev

What made you want to become a lawyer?

It is a long story with bucolic origins in Bulgaria.  I hail from a traditional hard working farming community set in an exceptionally beautiful part of Bulgaria which is steeped in history and renowned for its ancient choral music.  My father is a farmer as was his father, and so on, down the ages.  It was firmly assumed that I would follow in their footsteps, however, fate intervened.

My mother suffered a mishap at the hands of an incompetent orthopaedic surgeon, during what ought to have been a routine procedure.  As if the pain and discomfort was not enough to bear, the hospitals complaisant indifference incensed all of us.  Fortunately, the surgeon’s blunder was resolved by further expensive surgery.  However, this episode left a lasting impression on me.  I will never forget the sense of profound frustration I felt, even as a child, at the injustice of the situation and of being unable to help my mother stand up to the arrogant and indifferent hospital administration.  

This is when I determined upon becoming a lawyer. I also just like helping people, whether that involves fighting their corner or just helping them to find a solution to a problem or to start a new business. 

Who is your favourite fictional character and why?

I used to watch many American legal dramas whilst I was growing up.  Series such as Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Law and Order, readily come to mind.  More recently, Suits was the “go to” legal drama and everyone likes Harvey Specter or Mike Ross however (for those in the know) I am team “Litt” all the way!

Why did you choose this particular route to qualify, what are its advantages?

I have nearly completed my legal training; I expect to qualify as a solicitor in April 2021.

Viewed in retrospect, I suppose I took the conventional route: reading law at University, then following that up with a one year post graduate Law Practice Course before entering into my two year training contract with Solicitors Tiltle LLP in Exeter, shortly before it acquired Broomhead & Saul solicitors. 

However, the early steps were anything but conventional, as my father vehemently disapproved of my decision to break with the farming tradition to become a lawyer. This meant that I had to become completely self-reliant and resourceful from a relatively early age. These early experiences of defiance gave me the confidence to take the leap into the unknown and to leave Bulgaria for a legal career in England. I have never regretted that decision.

What has your training been like?

To be honest it was not what I had expected.

I knew I would be working directly with the partners, which was both exciting as a prospect and in reality.  I like being busy and I was worried I would be doing photocopying and begging to do some legal work as I thought training in a busy firm would mean the quicker you do the tasks the better. Boy was I wrong!

I remember my first week I was quizzed on how I would approach matters and by the second week I had my own files to work on, together with the work which was coming from the partners. And the work was really varied and interesting.

In my job interview I had rather rashly mentioned that I negotiated supply agreements and developed brands from East Asia and introduced them in Europe together with drafting exclusivity agreements for European clients.  I was promptly given a supply agreement to review and comment on.  

Because I work directly for the partners in a small niche firm I have the benefit of being asked to deal with an unusually wide range of cases, which are often quite complex.  This has taught me to think on my feet as well as developing my legal experience further and faster than I would have expected of a larger law firm.

The time has flown by and I find it hard to believe I am now in the last few weeks of my professional training.  Every day has been a challenge, but I say “Bring it on!”.

I have been fortunate in that the team I work with is very close knit. We work hard but not at the expense of having a laugh. There are days when it is all hands on deck but we have one another’s backs and help each other out and this includes the partners. It is very rare that you would walk by the office at 6.30 and not see either or both of them still working. They love what they do and their enthusiasm passes on to us as trainees.

How has Covid-19 affected your experience

I am one of the lucky ones who was able to continue working throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns. I didn’t have a single day off and I have been as busy as ever.

Naturally enough, we have all had to adapt to meet the various challenges posed by this pandemic.  For example, I ended up answering many more incoming calls, taking messages and taking on matters which I normally would not have taken on but I really enjoyed the experience.

I know that the lockdown has been a lot more difficult for many other businesses. Having robust IT systems in place was absolutely crucial to this firm’s success.  Without the right systems, we would not have been able to provide the same level of service and customer support we are proud to have been able to provide. This effort has been amply rewarded by the number of appreciative clients who take the time and trouble to thank us. This is one thing I take pride in, I do not leave things sitting on my desk.   I like to leave my office with a clear desk for the next day, if it means working longer hours, then so be it.

What motivates you to get out of the bed on a weekday, apart from the alarm clock?

I am a fairly positive person and I like doing things so I suppose it is the fact that I cannot stay still. I enjoy lazing in bed as much as anyone and I sleep like a log but I like working just as much and cannot imagine life without work.

What gives you the most satisfaction at work, with an illustration perhaps?

When things just fit! When you speak with a client who needs help, especially if another firm had said that it cannot help, and you pick up the phone, you hear their story and you think, yes of course we can help!

The important high value corporate deals are not always the matters that give one the most satisfaction, although I enjoy complex matters very much.  What really matters is if I can contribute to making a real difference in someone’s life or to a transaction.  I really enjoy helping people in a practical, tangible way –  this is what really makes me tick and this is what motivated me to become a solicitor in the first place. 

When some days don’t work out quite as I had hoped, like any professional, one ploughs on in the knowledge that there might be a beer awaiting me at the end of the day.

What do you want to specialise in when you qualify?

I want to specialise in commercial and intellectual property. Although I really enjoyed my time in Commercial property, I think my brain is wired in a way that I always put my “commercial hat” on and put myself in the client’s shoes when I give advice and this has made my time in the Commercial and Corporate team feel like it is my “calling”. And working with Richard James who is one of the top Franchise Specialists in the South West has really made a huge impact on my training and development.

I have always been interested in brands and contracts and how business concepts develop.

I enjoy watching documentaries on how business grow and develop, like KFC, McDonalds, Coca Cola even Marks and Spencer. I think also it is more business to business and both sides tend to want the same outcome.

It has been interesting to acquire experience of private client and family disputes. However, I am quite an emotional person and although I love arguing and fighting my corner, I am a realist.  I know sometimes it just won’t be possible to get everything my client wants or needs in one of these areas, where sometimes both parties end up losing out.  Whereas, in commercial law, I find that it tends to be a little more constructive; creative even. The parties are not always in opposition, so it is more a case of “We both know what we want lets work towards getting it right for both parties”. And there is a great deal of negotiation which I love.

Where do you think you might be / doing in ten years time?

Obviously, I would like to think I might be an equity partner in a super successful upcoming law firm.  Perhaps I will be able to start planning a retirement to south west Portugal (ho ho!) However, joking aside, I am quite ambitious.  I intend to work my way towards earning a partnership.  I would like to be recognised in a specific field of expertise one day soon, as someone who’s experience and opinion is unrivaled.

Will computers have replaced lawyers in ten years time?

Not in a million years!

I think computers will continue to aid solicitors in many new ways.   The legal profession has no choice but to move with the times and one effect of the pandemic has been to accelerate our dependency on IT.  That said, computers cannot be compassionate, they cannot judge a human scenario, they cannot empathise and they are vulnerable to manipulation. Whilst individuals can also be manipulated they come with added attributes like common sense and inspiration; whereas computers come with programming errors and connectivity issues!

What makes a good lawyer?

In my eyes a good lawyer is someone who not only knows how to read the law but how to read the client and the situation. Being compassionate is a crucial element. Being able to explain the law and its relevance to the client’s circumstances (and in “layman” terms) is also key. A good lawyer is someone who is recommended by people. I think you need to be a certain type of person to be a lawyer. The need to help and resolve must be there.

What makes you laugh

Homer Simpson. Not sure if I could say this as I am fairly certain an aspiring solicitor ought not be looking to an alcoholic cartoon character for a laugh but sorry I can’t help it. Homer is simple, stubborn and always gets things wrong. I suppose that is what makes me laugh, simple, honest, funny, jokes.

What has it been like working for us?

Having worked all my life, I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a task that I have not enjoyed or found rewarding or informative in some way. There were some days, or even weeks when I had thought it is time for me to move on, but I persevered. What I can honestly claim though is that I have never had a job that I enjoyed as much as this. I don’t know how many trainees really enjoy their training contract, I cannot be the only one, but I do genuinely love it. Which I suppose is a good thing as I am planning on being a solicitor until I retire. (Do solicitors retire?) I am told once you get a taste for practicing the law you cannot easily forego it.) The team and the team’s work ethics and culture is what makes the firm. Work is work, whichever way you look at it, but if you do it with the great team we have, then it is just joy going to work! And they all eat whatever I cook and bring to the office which is always nice.

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