As if qualification day isn’t a big enough deal for final seat trainee solicitors then, for some, comes along the added pressure of joining a new law firm.
If you’re due to start your journey as a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor in unchartered waters then there are plenty of simple steps you can take to ensure your early years of qualification are plain sailing. First and foremost do not assume things will be the same.
Indeed, this principle also applies to any of you qualifying into teams you sat in during the early days of your training contracts because changes, albeit subtle, may have happened in your absence. What’s more, the expectations placed on you by both colleagues and clients will inevitably shift. That said, for most of you qualifying into larger commercial firms you’re unlikely to be given your own files to manage on day one. The transition for you will be a little more gentle.
If you’re about to join a new firm as an NQ then minimise external disruptions. Clear your diary of any social engagements for the next couple of weeks so that you’re free to attend any client events. formal or informal drinks, dinners or parties your new firm invites you to.
Also, if you need to move/relocate aim to sort out accommodation well in advance of your start date. Then plan your route into work by familiarising yourself with any recent timetable changes announced by rail companies or major road works. Remember arriving for work late on day one will not win you any favours.
When your first day finally arrives make the most of your induction and pay plenty of attention to the boring stuff such as work policies, IT systems (including where to save shared documents etc), house styles, precedents etc. Trust me this will avoid a lot of stress further down the line.
It’s also important to quickly familiarise yourselves with team structures, such as which senior associates work with which partners and who is responsible for different client relationships etc. Most firms do not have formal processes in place on how matters are staffed so it will be down to you to determine how this works.
You’re likely to be introduced to lots of unfamiliar faces during your first few days. So to help remember your new colleagues’ names I’d recommend drawing up a quick table plan and then adding to it as and when people are introduced to you. It’s also worth including any interesting information such as nicknames, working styles and responsibilities etc. And remember it’s just as important to familiarise yourselves with the support staff (especially the PAs) as well as the other lawyers.
You will also most probably be invited to lunch by some of the solicitors/associates in your new team. If you do then say ‘yes’ as this is one of the best ways to learn about the people, processes and politics at your new firm. However, avoid any temptations to get involved in any idle gossip, including making negative comments about how your old firm is better than your new one.
In addition to any informal networking opportunities do try find out about any formal mentoring programmes that may exist and sign-up for them. Also, aim to participate in non-fee earning activities such as volunteering, joining any sports clubs your firm is involved in or by signing up for staff committees – the obvious one here being the social committee!
After introductions, lunches and the IT training is over then it should be all hands on decks. Be eager to get involved in any work that is given to you no matter how menial or tedious. And if any instructions you’re given don’t make sense aim to seek clarification as soon as possible because qualification doesn’t mean you now have to go it completely alone. It is still perfectly fine in many situations to get your work checked over. Also, remember to gather regular feedback from colleagues and use this to reflect on how you can continue to enhance the quality of your output.
A positive work ethic, willingness to learn and producing quality work are the most important ingredients for settling into an NQ role quickly. So another top tip is to do an honest self-assessment of your performance during your training contract and then to prepare a plan on how to improve on any development points flagged in your trainee appraisals. To this end, I would encourage you to sign-up for any training sessions, be that technical or business skills.
It’s really important to remember that though your business cards and email signatures will now say “associate” or “solicitor” you are far from the finished product. What’s more, some of your legal knowledge may well have become hazy due to there being a significant gap between the time you spent in the department as a trainee and the date you joined it as an NQ. So though you should not feel afraid to ask for help it is also a really good idea to spend time on familiarising yourself with key legislation, rules, regulations and documents.
Finally, I’d strongly recommend staying in contact with former colleagues and keeping them up to date on how you’re getting on. You can do this through the usual channels such as LinkedIn or by joining your old firm’s alumni network.