5 top tips for trainee solicitors
After years of studying and countless applications, you’ve finally secured a coveted training contract. Before you qualify as a solicitor, however, there’s a final two-year period of self-development ahead of you. During your training contract, you’ll spend time working within different areas of the law, meet new people and gather the legal knowledge and skills you’ll need upon qualification.
It’s not all plain sailing, though, and moving between departments and settling into a new team every few months can be tricky. The rotational training system is important, however, as it will also help you choose a preferred practice area post-qualification. Critically, it is crucial to your development as a lawyer; this continuous adjustment will help you build the resilience you’ll need when you qualify.
Our tips below will help you make your time as a trainee as valuable and enjoyable as possible:
1. Manage your workload
When many trainees begin their training contract, they are entering the professional legal sector for the first time. The demands placed on you will be very different to those you might have become used to during your years of study. Project managing your workload is a crucial skill that you will need to learn quickly.
Making an effort to be organised will save you time in the long-run. Keep a to-do list and make a note of deadlines before prioritising tasks based on their urgency. While doing so, it’s important to be flexible and bear in mind that, throughout the day, this order of priority is likely to change.
Set realistic timescales for when you can get work done; there’s no point committing to deadlines you’re not going to be able to meet. If you realise you’re going to miss a deadline, flag this up with your supervisor as soon as possible so that something can be done about it.
Work hard and take on as many tasks as you can manage, but recognise that when you’re snowed under, you can delegate. If there are jobs on your to-do list such as printing large documents or sending things in the post, don’t be afraid to ask a secretary or paralegal for help. There are support systems in place for a reason - to help you work effectively. Make sure you use them.
2. Be enthusiastic and ask questions
Even if you’re not thrilled about a particular seat, throw yourself into your work and complete even the most mundane tasks with enthusiasm. Be proactive and take initiative. Offer assistance if you see a task you could help with, especially if it can be done quickly and will help to make a colleague’s life easier. Even if you aren’t taken up on your offer, those around you will appreciate the extra effort and might be encouraged to give you more interesting responsibilities.
When given any instructions, it’s critical you understand exactly what is required of you. Senior staff are very busy and might forget to tell you all the information you need. If you don’t understand their instructions, ask questions until you do.
While it’s important to appear keen and show an interest in your work, try not to bombard your supervisor with questions. Find the balance between using your initiative and knowing when to ask for help. Be mindful of other people’s workloads and try to work out the answer for yourself. Alternatively, find a mentor you can turn to for advice and who can help aid your development. NQs are an invaluable source of information; they’ve likely to have more time than, say, partners and have, themselves, just been through the training contract experience.
3. Take on board feedback and own up to your mistakes
The primary goal of a training contract is to learn. It’s only natural that you’ll make mistakes, but as time passes and you gain more experience, you’ll gain confidence and develop new skills. If you’re worried about how you’re doing, don’t be afraid to ask for advice. You’re not expected to get everything right straight away, so try not to take negative feedback personally.
If you make a mistake, own up. The longer you leave a mistake, the more difficult it might become to resolve. Letting your supervisor know about it will mean that the error can be amended quickly to prevent having an unhappy client. Learn from your slip-ups and take any constructive feedback you receive on board when you approach your next piece of work.
4. Keep an open mind
Many people start their training contracts with a clear idea of the area of law they want to work in post-qualification. However, as they explore different practice areas, this can often change. While you may expect to enjoy your time spent in the commercial team the most, at the end of your training period you might find that your favourite seat was in the employment department.
It’s important to go into each seat with an open mind and to try not to have any preconceived ideas about the departments you’ll be working in. Make the most out of each and every seat and learn as much as possible. You never know, you could discover a passion for an area of law you would never have expected.
5. Get involved
Your training contract is really about making the most of every opportunity on offer. Be willing to learn new things, take on new challenges and ask about getting involved in as much as possible, both professionally and socially. Take control of your own learning and ask your supervisor if you can accompany them on a client meeting or draft a particular document.
Whether you take on pro bono work, join the firm’s netball team or a go on team night out, it’s important to demonstrate that you’re a team player by involving yourself in activities outside the office. Participating in these events will help you show off your personality, boost your confidence and help you to create an invaluable network of colleagues that will make your time at the firm more enjoyable.
Not every day during your two-year training period is going to be easy. Your traineeship is about getting to know your firm, learning more about different practice areas and developing yourself as a legal professional.
The training contract is designed to ensure that you qualify with a well-rounded knowledge and experience of the legal sector. The beauty of the rotational system is that if you’re struggling in a particular seat, in a couple of months you’ll be moving on to a different department. Be positive, keep going and have confidence that your period of training will get you to be where you need to be upon qualification.