Congratulations! Welcome to the first week of your training contract. Savour this moment of feeling on top of the world because you’ve earned this. Life has thrown endless curveballs at you, but your tenacity, determination and resilience have always come to the fore. And here you are entering a profession that’s notoriously difficult to crack and will set you up for life in terms of newly acquired skills, relationships forged and financial security.
That being said, and with the risk of bringing you back down to terra firma, don’t be lured into a false sense of security. Training as a solicitor in a demanding City law firm isn’t for the faint hearted. Be prepared to work long and unpredictable hours. And as for the documents. Well put it this way – writing a 2,000-word essay will feel like a walk in the park when compared to the endless complex and lengthy documents you’re soon going to be expected to get your head around. Bundling and reviewing documents are just par for the course.
Indeed, though it’s important to complete the thankless and menial work with enthusiasm you should proactively seek out tasks that will help you develop your technical lawyering skills, particularly research and drafting. I’d also advise you to get as much client contact as possible but remember this is likely to come more gradually. My main point here is to give yourself permission to step out of your comfort zone. After all, I recently read that an estimated two-thirds of a trainee solicitor’s professional development comes from simply doing a good job.
Whilst I’m on the subject of doing a good job, please be mindful of becoming a perfectionist. The key to impressing senior lawyers is to pay ‘attention to detail’ and to try your best. And if you do make a mistake try not to catastrophise. Treat it as a learning experience. Related to this, don’t feel disheartened if your first piece of written work is edited beyond recognition. Review the changes and make a note of the alternative phrases used by your senior colleagues and figure out how to incorporate them into your future drafting tasks. Trust me – writing will soon become one of your biggest strengths and ultimately help to turbo charge your career switch from law to journalism.
Husnara, my other top tips for surviving your first seat as a trainee solicitor are as follows:
- Learn through osmosis. Watch, listen and absorb how others around you manage themselves at work and approach their day-to-day tasks. But avoid incessantly comparing yourselves to others, particularly the posh pashmina donning Chelsea girls in your intake. At times you’re likely to feel like an outsider but eventually you’ll realise that your background is what makes you stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
- Seek regular feedback on your most significant tasks and think how you can continue to up your game.
- Get to work on cultivating your internal network. Treat all colleagues (including non-lawyers and especially your PA) as individuals.
- Don’t feel intimidated by white, middle class, middle aged men because sadly that’s the typical profile of the majority of partners at your firm and indeed most City law firms. Be brave and get to know them and work towards turning them into your cheerleaders / sponsors and mentors.
- When taking instructions from colleagues ensure you’re clear on what’s expected of you and if appropriate agree a follow-up call to discuss how you’re progressing with the task. If instructions don’t make sense, just say so. Often when someone is delegating work they’re just thinking aloud, resulting in a brain dump rather than giving a clear set of instructions.
- Learn to manage your own expectations and those of your colleagues. That includes having the confidence to say no.
- Related to point six above remember that most deadlines are negotiable. If your workload means the deadline your colleague has set is unrealistic let them know and offer to juggle commitments around to accommodate their work.
- You’re starting your training contract in a very busy corporate team meaning you’ll be expected to spin lots of plates in the air simultaneously. My advice therefore is to make effective use of to-do lists!
- Pace yourself. A training contract is a marathon and not a sprint. Or as others would put it a 24-month job interview.
- Finally, enjoy the experience. Living and working in London during your 20s will be some of the best days of your life. Ones that you’ll treasure forever.
Best of luck, Husnara. You’ve got this!