Trainee Solicitor, Dan, shares his tips on how to survive and thrive in the first three months of your training contract.
Be it January, March or September, many will be starting their training contracts this New Year. It will most certainly be a memorable first day; a day where you're simultaneously overwhelmed with excitement and anxiety. Whilst enthusiasm runs high, so does fear of the unknown. Rest assured, the hard part is over - you've secured a training contract, and now you're starting!
The profession itself is continually diversifying. In this respect, you are likely to meet fellow trainees from an array of backgrounds. These might include those who have previously undertaken paralegal work; those who've practiced in other industries; or like me, those who started straight after university and LPC. Whilst there will inevitably be varying degrees of practical legal experience, trust that you are all on an equal footing, and take advantage of this support network that your firm has to offer.
Starting any new role is a steep learning curve, here are my top three lessons from my first three months as a trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths.
1. Get to grips with the case management system
Case management systems play a vital role in the day to day functioning of any firm. They are designed to bolster efficiency within your practice group and when used correctly, they can make particularly onerous tasks really simple.
However, getting to grips with a case management system is not an easy endeavour. The software can be complicated and unfamiliar. Pay full attention in your induction training and try not to overlook parts which you feel may be irrelevant for your first seat. All software training will be given for a reason. The demands of clients will come in all different shapes and sizes; the only way to be prepared is to remain attentive.
The training policies and procedures for all firms differ. At Shoosmiths, we are encouraged to ask for further training on any particular element of the software we want to know more about. It's important to utilise these opportunities where necessary, they are there for your benefit and individual growth.
2. Keep your supervisor informed
In the busyness of starting a new seat and taking on new responsibilities, keeping your supervisor informed can easily be overlooked. As a trainee solicitor, you will be assisting on matters in which your supervisor is already involved. You may be tasked with drafting a certain document, or perhaps overseeing the early stages of a transaction.
Keeping your supervisor up to date doesn't have to be a monotonous task; a short email outlining what stage you're at and whether you can meet a specific deadline will suffice. By doing this you create an opportunity to ask questions and rectify any mistakes you may have made before you hand in any draft pieces of work.
Communication with your supervisor should be your main priority, but not just for keeping them up to date with your workload. Regularly have a two-way conversation which includes feedback about your work, style and ability, and use this as an opportunity to reaffirm your understanding of any task. If you don't feel you're receiving this kind of open communication, suggest weekly one-to-one meetings.
Why is this so important? The reason is two-fold: it avoids you taking on too much work from too many people in your team, or a duplication of work, and it allows your supervisor to keep the client informed. On a purely administrative note, your supervisor is able to document the work you undertake to track your progress before the notorious mid-seat review.
3. Fine-tune your drafting skills
When we reflect on influential solicitors, we can be sure that they all share a common skill - flawless drafting! As a trainee, needless to say our drafting will be far from flawless, but it is the learning curve which is most important.
All firms will have their own precedent bank; a folder of generic documents for most legal issues, but do not fall into the precedent trap. A precedent is a guide and not a semi-finished product. Even where a case is seemingly similar, the fine details will inevitably differ. Every document you produce should be bespoke to reflect this. Especially in the early stages of your training contract, copy and pasting documents can be detrimental to your professional development, especially where you are unsure as to the effect of a particular clause. Take the time to understand a clause and the effect it has, only then will you be able to ascertain whether it is relevant to your client and the case at hand.
When drafting, I've been taught that attention to detail and consistency should be at the forefront of your mind. Poor spelling and grammar can considerably undermine what you're trying to achieve and ultimately, in the eyes of recipient it creates a negative perception of your technical ability. However, we are all human and vulnerable to making mistakes. A useful tip which has worked well for me involves leaving a draft document for a period of time before redrafting or proof reading it. This will allow you to assess your work with a fresh pair of eyes.
Most importantly, your team are a useful resource. When a colleague has a spare minute, do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Just make sure you return the favour!
Relinquish your preconceptions and start on day one with an open mind. It may sound cliché, but as the old adage says: "be yourself". Build your personal brand and get involved from the outset; be excited to meet new people and tackle new challenges head-on, this is what you've worked hard towards for some time, and you'll get out of it what you put in.
Most importantly, enjoy your first few months as a trainee!