They say hindsight is a wonderful thing… As I embark on my final few months (5.5 to be exact) as a trainee solicitor, I’m writing to a former me, and any other future trainees, to set the record straight…
Dear Future Trainee,
Wow, you did it?! No, I know, you’re not qualified yet or maybe even practicing, or even in a firm working at present, but you did it.
Did what you might ask? You chose law, chose to embark on a difficult at times journey, chose late nights and early mornings studying, you chose dedication, chose a role dedicated to helping others. Before I really start to sound like Euan McGregor in the opening scene of Trainspotting, you really did the hardest part – you identified and chose a career you see yourself in.
But what is the honest truth of this role? What do you really need to know before you set out on this road to qualification? What challenges will you likely face? From a (nearly) past trainee to future, I’m hoping to provide some insight.
Whether you’re just starting your LLB, GDL, or LPC, get your – and I cannot stress this enough – organisation hat on. The reading list will be huge, the tabbing endless, the memory requirements extraordinary, and whilst this all seems a bit much, it taught me how to be organised beyond my wildest dreams. It will seem tedious to start but trust me when I say this, organisation is key to being able to keep on top of your work as a trainee and, as I am soon to find out, post qualified work.
Don’t forget about the extra bits:
We all know that law and careers in law call for a strong academic background and therefore you may find yourself studying at all times you have free. Kudos for throwing yourself into your work but do not forget that there is more to life than being a straight A student!
The experience I have gained over the years from volunteering, partaking in mooting competitions, client interview competitions, and charity events, has been invaluable. I reflect on these experiences now in relation to my own work. Do really try to find time for these – I promise it’ll pay off in the end.
Work experience, work experience, work experience!
Having been through this process myself, I do truly understand how frustrating getting work experience can be, particularly in firms. However, I cannot stress enough how, what on the face of it would appear entirely unrelated experience, is really valuable.
Worked in retail and had to have an awkward conversation with a customer? Think about the communication skills you’ve developed.
Worked in a firm simply filing for them and archiving? Think about the organisation skills you’ve developed and the regulations firms are under in keeping client’s documents that you’re now aware of.
Worked in a bar at weekends whilst you studied full time? Think about how you balanced these responsibilities.
Use these experiences to gain more, legal focused, work experience.
Don’t turn down experience that could be valuable in any sense. I volunteered to write a website with a charity for a day. The website was specifically to provide legal resources to developing countries. Whilst drafting a website on the face of it would not be seen as legal experience, I learnt a lot about laws in other jurisdictions in the process!
One of the ongoing mistakes I see future trainees making when applying for firms is applying for too many! Yes, this is a thing. I am a true believer that by applying for 100 + firms you’re simply over generalising your application. The result? You don’t stand out to the firm and you don’t sell the idea that the firm stands out for you.
No law firm is the same to the next – in practice, in staff, work life balances, in workloads, the nature of the work they take on, and so on. Whilst no single firm may be perfect for you, it is important to ensure that you end up training, and potentially working as a qualified solicitor, at a good matched firm to your expectations.
Aim to find a number of firms in your area (or area you wish to live in to train) that appeal to work for. Look at their websites, the initiatives their involved in, any materials anyone else has written about them, Glassdoor reviews on them… Are they a good match to you? If you know that you’re desperate to do one area of law specifically, do they do this area? If not, it might be best to consider elsewhere (although, as I’ll mention below, don’t commit yourself to one area without expecting to be drawn to another!).
Once you’ve established this, what demonstrates that you’ll be a good match to them? What would you bring them that means you’ll fit into the firm well?
Applying on these bases will more than likely put you in a good position to succeed in your application.
Preparing to start your training contract and starting your training contract:
So you’ve bagged the dream training contract at the firm you wanted – congrats! I guarantee that the relief you’re now feeling is immense but the hard work hasn’t stopped! How do you ensure you’re truly ready to hit the ground running on day one?
- Find out which seat you’ll be in first:
I found a lot of relief in finding out which department I was first going to be in. I requested a copy of the LPC textbook for this from my past university (in the hope they had spares and they did!). I gemmed up on the ‘must know’ and familiarised myself with the content. It made my first day much less daunting.
- Invest in a small note pad and pen to carry with you whenever you might need it:
I cannot stress this point enough and this tip is revisited in our ‘Top tips for Trainees’:
- Go to any socials you’re invited to before you start and connect with any future colleagues you meet on LinkedIn:
For many trainees, you get that ‘you’re in’ message anywhere between 1-2 years in advance of starting and so social events may be offered way before your start date. Whilst I entirely accept that the concept of socialising with people you don’t know at all is daunting, it makes your start day much easier and it is always handy to have some friendly faces to ask questions to or ask for directions from.
Most law firms have websites with a Meet The Team page (ours is HERE). Check out your future employer’s page online to get to know names and faces in advance.
- Create a work list:
Get used to working of a list that you can make further notes on and highlight as ‘complete’, ‘part complete’, and ‘yet to start’. I use mine religiously that I created in Excel. I find it has been a useful tool to navigate my workload, my additional responsibilities, and to put in simple reminders to chase on certain topics.
- Give each seat 100% and enjoy it:
After studying for as long as you have and working as hard as you have, it would be an disservice to not give each seat 100%. Been put in a seat you don’t like the sound of? Embrace it. You’ll be surprised to know that a lot of people do U turns and find themselves loving an area they thought they’d hate and vice versa. Giving it your all reflects on you well.
As a final reminder to my reader, I can confirm (having been through all of this myself) that you will get there in the end and the hard work will pay off. One day, you might find yourself writing to a future trainee yourself!
Most importantly, good luck!
From a Trainee Solicitor.
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