You have done well and secured that elusive training contract. It’s your first career job and you have thrown yourself into it. You are currently reviewing a complex document that you don’t fully understand … yet have been asked to format it in a particular way, for no other reason than your supervisor likes it that way. As a solicitor, let me tell you – we’ve all been there! So … quick reminder why are you doing this?
Ultimately it is because, at a not so distant point in the future, you are aiming to become a solicitor. You will also hopefully be specialising in an area of law you chose.
But before you get there, how do you maximise your time as a trainee? How do you ensure that you get that perfect job in the team you want to join at the end of the two years? You may not wish to remain at your training firm, but you may well do. And as with everything in life, it’s always worth having options.
The purpose of this blog is to give you some helpful tips to make the most of your two years training. How do you become the trainee that every team wants to employ? You may be surprised there is a bit more to it than you may have thought?!
Presentation and approach
Always look the part. If in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a dark suit and polished shoes. Some law firms are more traditional than others, but you always need to be ready to attend a client meeting – clients of course expect their solicitors to look smart. It’s tough but treat the training contract like a two year job interview. Show interest, enthusiasm and commitment to the role, firm and the profession as a whole. The legal world is a small one and you will soon gather that everyone knows everyone, who then knows someone! Even your posture and the way in which you carry yourself can have an impact on people’s perception of you.
You won’t be expected to know everything. Whilst there is an expectation for trainees to undertake their own research, you will be expected to ask questions. I have regularly been told by partners that there is nothing worse than an over-confident trainee who in turn makes dangerous mistakes. You need to use your own initiative but remember you have the word ‘trainee’ in your job title for a reason.
The life of a trainee can change at a moment’s notice. I recall being called to Cardiff County Court to cover a small claim’s trial for someone in Manchester (who had forgotten about it?!). But try as much as you can to plan your day – get in early to check your emails and deal with anything urgent. Accept certain tasks will require more mental energy than others, so prioritise those early in the day whilst taking into account any deadlines. Again, sounds basic but organisational skills, prioritisation, time keeping etc will be assessed during your training contract.
Take a commercial approach
From the onset you need to understand the importance of profitability and accountability. Focus on client driven work where possible. If you are in private practice, the chances are that your firm will be scrutinising the profit of every team and individual. As you progress your career, the fees that you generate will determine how much you are paid.
Don’t be afraid to say ‘NO’
It’s crucial to be committed and keen – you are there to learn and solicitor’s hours are frequently not 9-5pm. However being overworked or stressed is no fun. Be realistic about your day and what you can achieve. Don’t commit if you can’t do a good job – yes this is easier said than done!
Start building your own contact network in addition to your day to day technical knowledge. How you build relationships is a vital part of being a solicitor – whether internally in your firm or externally with clients and referrers of work. All solicitors are expected to generate their own work these days, so having a good network is vital to being a success.
Sounds simple, but embrace all tasks. Some can be tedious and others challenging. Your attitude is being noted and will be a determining factor on whether you are recruited into a team. Much of the feedback I receive is ‘team fit’… in other words, can the team work with you?
Make note of your experience
At the moment, preparing your CV for qualification time may seem to be a thing for the future – unless you are just coming up to qualification. I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve spent with NQ candidates preparing their CVs but it’s been a lot of hours! After a year and half, are you really going to recall what you did in your first seat? If your firm doesn’t require a log, start one so you can keep track…. your life will be easier if you make notes as you go along. You will need lots of detail for your CV, including experience gained, deals undertaken and the type of clients you worked with.
Don’t take it personally
Yes you are likely to make the odd mistake or two. It’s part of the process. Learn from your mistakes and take constructive criticism. Ask for suggestions so you can develop as a lawyer.
Think… can a task be done by someone else to help you manage your time better i.e. meeting rooms requests, printing/collating large documents. This is obviously especially relevant when you are very busy. Most likely the person who asked you doesn’t mind who does it…it just needs to be done.
Pro bono and volunteering
Get involved. Law firms often run events and get involved in supporting charities, undertake pro-bono work etc. It can all be excellent experience and possibly good fun. Think…what’s going to make you stand out from the rest of the NQ crowd when you come to look for that first NQ role, internally or externally.
In summary, the training contract can seem like a long graft and even feel like an unnecessary transitional period. However, there are ways of making the most of it, in order to secure what you desire in the future.
Finally, be positive and enjoy it! Your career officially starts when you qualify … until then have fun with it… before that ‘chargeable hours target’ rockets!
Liam Andrews is an Associate in the Chadwick Nott South East team. He can be contacted on T 0117 917 1864, M 07921 895 776, firstname.lastname@example.org.