STEP Journal spoke to Senior Associate Vanina Wittenburg, one of the 2022 Excellence Award winners. Originally published in STEP Journal, the interview can be found here.
What does your firm do?
I am a Senior Associate at Hunters Law. My firm celebrated its tercentenary in 2015 and has been based in Lincoln’s Inn in London, UK for just under 280 years – so as you can imagine it has a long history! We pride ourselves on developing long–term relationships with a varied set of clients and providing exceptional personal service.
Although our Private Client Department is the largest at the firm, we offer the full range of legal services to private individuals, trusts, landed estates, businesses and charities, ranging from wealth management, tax and estate planning, trust affairs, to business services, philanthropy and litigation.
What attracted you to a career in law?
Prior to deciding to become a solicitor, I was all set to enter the world of academia – I have always enjoyed dealing with intellectually challenging questions. After studying towards a two-year master’s degree I realised that I needed something more practical – as well as more human contact!
Law offers me the opportunity to deal with tricky questions and undertake research, but with a practical application to clients’ circumstances which provides that extra something I was looking for. The human interest element is ultimately what made me decide to train as a solicitor.
What is the most important thing STEP does, in your opinion?
STEP provides know–how and learning opportunities for its members. All of the STEP events I have attended gave me invaluable knowledge.
What made you choose to take the STEP qualification?
Most Private Client lawyers I know in London have taken the STEP Diploma so there was an expectation I would too. Having now completed it I can understand why. The STEP certificates built on my practical experience at work to provide me with a solid framework of knowledge for the area of law in which I specialise.
You achieved the top mark in a recent exam – what are the secrets to your success?
Studying towards the STEP Diploma whilst working full–time was no easy feat. I cannot say that there is any magic trick to it! For me the key things were being consistent with studying the materials in the months leading up to the exam (and taking very good notes).
I also did lots of specimen exam questions in the few weeks before the exam to consolidate my knowledge. Unfortunately, this also meant giving up a few weekends to revise – painful but necessary!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I really enjoy interacting with and building relationships with clients as well as being able to offer them practical legal advice. I am endlessly fascinated by all the different kinds of instructions we receive from clients. Every individual and family is different. It is up to us as private client lawyers to find the best way of applying the law to help them achieve their wishes.
.. and what do you feel is most worthwhile?
We often deal with our clients at difficult times. For example, when a loved one has died or the client is considering their own mortality and making a will. I think it is our duty to be as reassuring and practical as possible in the way we give our advice, so that our clients and their interests are protected, and to make it all as easy as possible for them.
What do you feel are the main challenges facing your organisation/practitioners now, and how will you deal with them?
Interestingly, I think from my generation, millennials, onwards, people are less aware of how important it is to have your affairs in order. I think we need to make a real effort to attract younger clients and give them that awareness.
Similarly, we also need to be better at dealing with new types of assets, not just crypto, but all the infinite amount of data we store online. Part of the problem is that the law has not kept up either so as a profession we really need to push for this.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us or any advice you would give to someone considering taking a STEP qualification?
I was so keen to take my STEP Diploma that I probably started a little too soon, only 6 months after I’d qualified! I think it would probably be better to have a couple of years of experience under your belt, if nothing else because so much more of the materials will be familiar from real life situations.
One of STEP’s Values is continuous learning. How does the organisation support your professional development and career growth?
My firm is absolutely brilliant at knowledge sharing. Prior to the pandemic we used to meet regularly as a department to discuss interesting matters we were dealing with. These meetings have somehow become a lot easier with the advent of video calls, and have been invaluable!
We also regularly meet to report on legal news and items of interest published in journals and other private client publications, and have regular sessions on tax law with a tax barrister.
The firm is always happy to sponsor attendance at conferences and talks. All of this has been fantastic for increasing my knowledge, and I feel it has made me into a much better lawyer. Plus I know that whenever I am dealing with a difficult question there will be a colleague who can help.