How The Crown Estate found their first ever legal trainee
Before the Flex Trainee scheme launched in October 2021, there were several organisations we were very keen to partner with. The Crown Estate was chief amongst them. As a uniquely-founded corporate entity that handles one of the country’s largest and most varied land and property portfolios (including the seabed), working within The Crown Estate’s legal department would provide a training experience like no other.
Of course, the scheme represented a significant commitment. Whilst it aligned with the social mobility aims of The Crown Estate, they had never before taken a legal trainee into their ranks. Accordingly, concerns were raised about the financial, logistical, and administrative aspects of taking on a trainee. Fortunately, the Flex Trainee scheme has been meticulously designed in consideration of all of these factors.
After meeting with Flex Legal’s CEO, Mary Bonsor, to discuss the practicalities of the scheme, The Crown Estate were convinced and agreed to participate in the scheme. Now, more than a year later, we’re delighted to say that the arrangement is working out tremendously well for all concerned parties, and The Crown Estate are preparing to welcome their second Flex Trainee to the organisation.
How The Crown Estate became interested in Flex TraineeThe Flex Trainee scheme was originally conceived as a social mobility scheme, designed to take advantage of the legal industry’s adoption of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination. By introducing the means to circumnavigate the widely discussed “training contract bottleneck”, the SRA hoped that phasing in the SQE would open legal qualification up to a wider pool of talent.
Increasing access to the profession, especially amongst historically under-represented demographics, has long been close to the heart of Flex Legal. We realised that by retrofitting our established agency-worker business model around the SQE, we could engineer win-win trainee scenarios to help improve social mobility within the legal industry, and offer organisations like The Crown Estate a valuable junior resource. Not only are The Crown Estate a fascinating and unique business, but they are organisationally committed to social mobility.
“Our goal is to build a truly diverse team and incorporate diversity into everything we do - enabling our people and places to thrive in a collaborative and inclusive culture, where uniqueness is valued and contributes to our shared success.”
- The Crown Estate
When Mary met with The Crown Estate team, a central point of discussion was how an SQE trainee might interface with the incredibly unique nature of their work. They also explained our partnership with STRIVE, and how Flex Trainee would enable The Crown Estate to develop in-house junior talent without the admin or risks of employing directly. They were incredibly interested.
“The Crown Estate is delighted to be involved with the Flex Trainee programme, which enables us to hire a very talented individual and help her to achieve her ambition of qualifying as a solicitor. What is particularly important to us is that, through STRIVE’s involvement, the programme is perfectly aligned with our commitment to broaden access to those who have potential but may otherwise lack the opportunity to prove themselves. I commend Mary for her excellent initiative.” - Nicholas Cheffings, Special Advisor, former Interim Head of Legal, at The Crown Estate
Preparing an SQE Trainee to work with The Crown EstateWe scheduled some early-stage interviews with The Crown Estate’s senior legal team and a selection of suitable potential trainees. Flex Legal’s core on-demand business takes pride in perfectly matching junior legal talent with legal teams, and Flex Trainee is no different. After meeting the candidates, the incredible Ghazhal Noory stood out as the perfect match for The Crown Estate. They noted that “she will be an asset to the team and a good addition to the business”.
Before Ghazhal’s placement began, she underwent Flex Trainee’s bespoke “readiness programme” alongside the rest of her cohort. This four week intensive training course aims to equip all trainees with the hard and soft workplace skills they will need to hit the ground running and add value from day one of their placement. It’s a mixture of talks, workshops, and practical exercises delivered by our Head of Learning and Development, Sophie Gould.
Ghazhal noted: “There were two sessions that really stood out to me. The first session I took lots of value from was the interviewing and presentation exercise where we were tasked with doing a SWOT analysis of Flex. It helped me understand the different functions of a business, what questions to ask to gather key information, and how to present my findings in the best way. The second session I really enjoyed was the contracts session we had with a GC with tips on good contract drafting (e.g. terminology to use, definitions etc.).”
The Crown Estate’s first ever legal traineeGhazhal emerged from the readiness programme with her professional aptitude freshly honed, and was ready to hit the ground running. As The Crown Estate’s first ever legal trainee, all eyes were on her. Fortunately, she picked up what was expected of her quickly and integrated with the in-house team fluidly.
The in-house team at The Crown Estate primarily deal with contractual work, which includes their crucial “Marine portfolio” of coastline and seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Ghazhal was initially tasked with supporting the London portfolio and helping the team with consultancy agreements, licences to occupy and conducting legal research. In her second year of training, Ghazhal now looks after the Marine, Windsor and Rural portfolio and supports the teams with their various contractual needs.
As Ghazhal has broadened her knowledge of the organisation, she has been successfully deployed to other business areas outside of the legal function. Ghazhal has now performed tasks for The Crown Estate’s Operations, People, Sustainability and Strategy teams - even doing some exciting and secretive research into the metaverse. Ghazhal also deals with applications received by the HM Land Registry and liaises with assets managers across the business to ascertain whether the applications conflict with The Crown Estate’s interests/ownership.
“The Crown Estate is an organisation with great values and an important purpose. This means that I am involved in very interesting and impactful work. But what has made my experience at The Crown Estate so great is the brilliant people I work with who devote so much time and energy into my training and development.”
- Ghazhal Noory
As testament to how far Ghazhal has come in her role, when The Crown Estate recently welcomed a new paralegal into their team, Ghazhal conducted 90% of the paralegal’s training. It goes without saying, but the sheer scope of tasks Ghazhal has performed shows the value she has added to The Crown Estate. All concerned parties are immensely pleased with her work, and couldn’t be happier for her!
“Whilst most of the team was on annual leave during a period this summer, I had a moment of realisation of how far I had come in the few months of training at The Crown Estate in relation to my confidence to deal with matters from start to finish. I have definitely exceeded my own expectations.” - Ghazhal Noory
Studying for the SQE exams as a Flex TraineeQualifying as a solicitor through the SQE route requires multiple criteria being met, and the Qualifying Work Experience is only one aspect of the route. Candidates must hold an undergraduate degree, meet “character and suitability” requirements, and pass two rigorous legal assessments - the SQE1 and SQE2.
The Flex Trainee scheme takes full account of this, and supports our Trainees in their SQE studies alongside their work commitments. We have partnered with industry-leading training provider Barbri, to offer all Flex Trainees access to their SQE prep courses. This means that every Flex Trainee spends four days per week working with their partner organisations, and one day per week studying for their exams.
Obviously, this is no easy feat. Ghazhal has had to simultaneously juggle her SQE exam prep and her working commitments. However, she has diligently balanced the requirements for both, and has found that they inform each other: “Doing both at the same time is challenging but manageable. SQE 1 is more of a black letter law exam and I found that with my experience at The Crown Estate, I had to invest less time into the Land law and Property law modules as I could easily remember and understand the content. SQE 2 assesses legal skills such as drafting, interviewing and negotiation etc in the context of the black letter law. I think that my experience to date will place me at an advantage when I come to sit the assessment as legal skills is something I practise daily.”
What is next for The Crown Estate and Flex Trainee?At the time of writing, Ghazhal has been working as an increasingly integral part of The Crown Estate’s legal team for almost a year and a half. Her SQE studies are progressing smoothly, and she is well on her way to qualifying as a solicitor via the SQE. We are thrilled to announce that not only are The Crown Estate incredibly happy with their Flex Trainee experience so far, but that they have agreed to welcome a second Trainee into their ranks as part of our Spring 2023 cohort!
Flex Trainee has always been about making the legal profession a more accessible and inclusive place to work. We take enormous satisfaction from the knowledge that organisations such as The Crown Estate share in this vision. Together, driven by the tireless efforts of remarkable individuals such as Ghazhal, we know we can make the industry better. We look forward to continuing our work with The Crown Estate, and cannot begin to thank them enough for the trust they have placed in us.
- Hire a Flex Trainee - If your legal team could benefit from involvement in the Flex Trainee scheme, then arrange a call with our team today to learn more.
- Apply to be a Flex Trainee - Are you an aspiring lawyer from an under-represented background? You might be a great candidate for the Flex Trainee scheme! Learn more on our Recruitee page.
- The Phoenix Group and Flex Trainee - One of our earliest Flex Trainee partnerships was with legendary FTSE100 company, The Phoenix Group. Read about their experiences here!