Approaching qualification: lessons I learned during my training contract
A couple of weeks ago, I was offered an NQ role as a solicitor in Cripps Pemberton Greenish’s Family team. My initial reaction was one of joy, followed by relief that not only had the last two years paid off but also that I had been offered the job that I wanted. (I was also secretly pleased that I didn’t have to start working on a CV that has been dormant for four years!)
When you get offered a job as an NQ solicitor, it is a funny feeling. The pressure is finally off after what almost seems like a two year interview. You enter this strange limbo period where you don’t know what is expected of you anymore and you must do everything you can to fight against complacency.
University taught me to learn in acronyms so I thought I’d step back in time to provide a little advice for you all based on what I have learnt in my time as a trainee solicitor.
Quite early on in my training, someone told me to use my free time in my training contract wisely. As in any job, your work comes in peaks and troughs. Unlike a qualified solicitor, a trainee does not have to deal with client billing or business development, so there may, in some seats, be time in your working day to fill. This is likely to be the last time in your legal career that you have a minimal amount of responsibility and some spare time. You should, therefore, enjoy this luxury and use it to further your legal knowledge and anything else that you think might help develop your career. When you qualify, you really won’t get this time back.
Raise your profile
One of the things that is drummed into you as a trainee solicitor is that you must “raise your profile”. This is likely to be within the firm as you will not be expected to bring in clients at this stage. Now, this is all fine and well as a concept but how you actually go about doing it is another thing.
My advice would be to attend firm social events, networking events, and training sessions (even those not relevant to your current seat); to volunteer when asked to help; and generally make yourself flexible to changing your plans in the event a team member needs assistance at the last minute. It may make you grind your teeth on occasion but it really will stand you in good stead in the future.
When I started at Cripps Pemberton Greenish I knew I was interested in Family law and I was therefore keen to spend some time in that department. Unfortunately, due to the logistics of having around 20 trainees circulating around the firm at any one time, it transpired that a seat in Family was not to be. I wasn’t content to let sleeping dogs lie so I made sure to ask if something could be done about this. I think it caused some administrative headaches but if I hadn’t asked the question I certainly wouldn’t be in the position I am now. The point being, don’t just accept what is given to you. Ask and changes can be made!
It is all too easy when you are a trainee to just do what you are told to do. The difference, however, between being a good trainee and a great trainee is what you do after your first task. Be proactive and use your initiative. Yes, you have done the research you were asked to do but what is the next step? Can you draft a letter or note of advice to the client? Can you assist in the preparation of documents for the next stage of the proceedings or transaction? You should always be one step ahead. These are the type of things that will carry you into the “great” category.
It was a bit of a stretch to find a relevant “N” but my last piece of advice is to live in the now! I have spent my whole training contract willing time to pass so I could reach the dizzying heights of qualification. In hindsight, I should have lived in the now a little more and enjoyed what was going on around me. The training contract is a rollercoaster and as trite as it may sound – you really should enjoy the ride!