The trainee survival guide

15 June, 2021

Starting your training contract is an exciting moment in a young lawyer’s life. It is a time to reflect with satisfaction on a fantastic accomplishment and look forward to the start of your legal career.

Life as a trainee presents a new set of challenges. Initially, you spend the first couple of weeks trying to find your feet, get to grips with potentially a new area of law and frantically trying to recall the lessons learned at Law School, which for some can feel like a distant memory! After all your hard work, you are desperate to make a good first impression and start with your best foot forward.

Inevitably, mistakes will be made along the way. Life as a trainee is a learning process. No one is expected to be the finished article at day one. The important thing is to not be thrown by mistakes and to do your best to make sure that they are not repeated. I have put together a list of some the most common mistakes that trainees make and some tips to avoid them.

 

  1. Not asking questions

Not everyone will feel comfortable holding their hand up when they do not understand something. Unfortunately, this is sometimes unavoidable as a trainee when dealing with new or complex areas of law. Working remotely can make asking questions feel more daunting – it is much easier to have a quick word with your supervisor when you are working next to them, than to put into an email what you may feel is a silly question.

Top tip:

Do not be afraid to reach out and ask questions where you need to – how else will you learn? With each question you will improve your understanding and competence. Sometimes look to the previous trainee in your seat who can be an excellent resource to point you in the right direction.

 

  1. Typos and attachments

We have all been there, hours spent crafting the perfect email or letter only to spot the error once it is sitting staring at you in your sent box. Typos and grammatical errors are a guaranteed way to chip away at your credibility and undermine your work product.

The wrong attachment is a similar but a potentially more problematic gaffe. It is easily done and the consequences range from the mildly embarrassing to the dreaded disclosure of confidential information.

Top tip:

Take your time and do not rush. Avoid the urge to turn work around as quickly as possible in favour of a more measured approach. If possible, have a colleague read things over. If not, then take the time to double or triple check before hitting send. As a first year trainee, you can make your mark initially by consistently delivering well-presented and proofed work.

 

     3. Video calls

Working from home has many benefits: there’s time saved commuting, extra time in bed and money saved at Pret. My personal favourite is avoiding the need to dress formally.

However, it can be easy to be forgetful of your surroundings. Take care when on video calls that you are not projecting anything in the background that you would rather be kept private. An important thing to look out for is reflective surfaces that could potentially reveal some creative lockdown outfits. This is especially important when you are representing the firm externally or liaising with clients: shirt, tie and floral Hawaiian shorts may slightly damage your credibility!              

Top tip:

The blurred background feature on Teams is a useful tool, particularly when working from somewhere with limited space.

 

     4. Remote working

It’s also very important to maintain structure when working outside of the office. In the absence of being able to physically leave your work in the office at the end of the day, it can be easy to lapse into a poor routine of working late and skewing your work/life balance.

Top tip:

Be disciplined with yourself and make sure you are taking breaks and remembering to get outside. Working from a flat, I find that packing up my laptop and work materials at the end of the day and tidying them away helps me to switch off from work and relax in the evening.

 

     5. Forgetting to enjoy yourself

Whilst life as a trainee can be stressful and challenging, it is also only the beginning of your legal career. It’s important to not sweat the small stuff and enjoy the opportunities to learn from your colleagues.

Top tip:

Look to the firm’s extra-curricular activities to really get the most out of your training contract. Becoming involved with a committee or a sports team can help introduce you to the wider firm and will help you embrace the firm’s culture.