The Covid-19 pandemic has unquestionably been the biggest challenge we’ve ever had to face as citizens of planet earth, with the repercussions being felt across every corner of the globe. This was particularly the case on 16 March 2020 when during an unprecedented TV broadcast Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown.
Despite Johnson’s order telling us to stay at home, I had other concerns on my mind. Namely, starting my long-awaited and much anticipated first day as a trainee solicitor at Trowers & Hamlins. On the eve of lockdown, I had excitedly made my way down to London from Manchester and was revelling in the sheer delight of staying in a pre-paid apartment with my fellow trainees.
Most experienced lawyers will tell you that their first day on the job was a mix of emotions. Nervousness combined with excitement as they set out to impress their new colleagues. But my training contract start date had an extra complicating factor that neither I nor any of my peers had done any preparation for – it coincided with the start of the lockdown!
That alone would of course been a valid reason for Trowers to simply postpone my start date. Thankfully, trainees at the firm are not just seen as transient labour but as the future of the firm. Hence, I was able to start my three-week induction and training contract remotely. This included being the first intake of trainees in the entire country to do the Professional Skills Course online, approved by The Law Society!
On day one in my first seat, it was warming to receive a ton of welcome e-mails from my new team and colleagues in other parts of the firm. This was followed by extensive training sessions (including some specific to my seat), weekly Zoom calls and guidance notes. This quickly put me at ease and I soon felt confident navigating my way through the firm’s internal systems and processes. So, thankfully, it wasn’t too long before I was able to make my mark.
Despite the added pressure that comes with Covid -19 and having not yet set a foot in my new office, I’ve never felt forgotten about and have received good levels of support from my colleagues. Any queries I’ve had have been answered, my work is regularly checked and I’m also receiving ample feedback.
However, with all things in life, not everything has been totally hunky-dory. I for one, learn best through observing others so not being in an office environment means I haven’t been able to see first-hand how an experienced lawyer would deconstruct arguments, carry out research or explain complicated legal solutions to clients. Also, working from home has meant I don’t get to see the smaller details lawyers often think about with regards to the ‘big picture’ on a transaction.
Despite these drawbacks, trainee solicitors who like me have started, or will start, their careers during this pandemic can use this opportunity to complement their training and learn from the unusual scenarios that they would otherwise not get to experience. For example, mastering the wizardry of technology and using it to your advantage and marketing yourselves to colleagues to other departments or indeed offices will go a long way toward helping you build a personal brand.
My humble advice to all fellow trainee solicitors and graduates is to prepare yourselves for change. We must all get used to the idea that over the course of our careers, in order for us to stay current, we should all aim to acquire new skills and learn how to use new tools, and this will be the norm.
Learning to flourish as an aspiring lawyer in these conditions is a new challenge, even for the most resilient amongst us. However, what this pandemic has taught me, save from learning video conferencing etiquette, is to embrace change and adapt to the changing circumstances around us, which we cannot control. But what we can and should control is how we react to those changes, particularly those that are sudden and unexpected.
As I approach my mid-seat review, working from home remotely was not how I pictured the start of my training contract to be like, but then again I never thought for one moment that working in commercial law would be a ride in the park either.
Sajeed Jamal, is a first seat trainee solicitor at international law firm, Trowers & Hamlins LLP