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How to prepare for trainee solicitor seat reviews

Alice, a trainee solicitor in the Shoosmiths’ Birmingham office, shares her advice for preparing for trainee solicitor seat reviews. Not just a requirement of the SRA, but also a great way to reflect on your work and development.

Your mid and end-of-seat reviews are your chance to collaborate with your supervisor to get the most out of your seat. Whilst regular, informal meetings will often be held with your supervisor and other members of your team, your seat reviews offer the chance to more formally track your progress.

The SRA Requirements

The SRA sets out a number of requirements that firms must follow when offering a period of recognised training (training contracts). One of these requirements is to provide regular feedback and appraisals throughout the training contract. The SRA suggests at least three formal appraisals over 24 months as good practice, and as many informal review meetings as firm and the trainee need to enable a constructive training experience.

Shoosmiths require trainees to set objectives at the beginning of each seat, to complete a mid-seat and end-of-seat review meeting, as well as informal one-to-ones and feedback more regularly. This ensures that a review takes place at least every three months throughout the training period.

The SRA describe the types of reviews they expect trainees to receive on their website as seen below.

Informal review

An important part of measuring and ensuring that the appropriate standards are being achieved and developed is regular review of the trainee's performance.
You are advised to undertake frequent, informal reviews of the trainee's training record. We recommend an informal performance review about once per month. This will help supervisors and trainees to:

  • review progress toward agreed objectives
  • deal with any difficulties close to the event
  • compare the breadth and depth of work being performed by the trainee with requirements of the Practice Skills Standards
  • address any professional conduct or ethics issues that may have arisen
  • discuss future training.

Appraisals

The purpose of a formal appraisal is to review the trainee's overall performance, assess the development of their skills, identify areas of strength and weakness, agree new objectives and plan future training. The appraisal should not include any surprises, because problems should always be dealt with as they arise.

We advise that as a minimum three formal appraisals should be conducted during the two-year training period: one in the first year, one in the second year, and one at the end. However, we recommend that trainees be appraised formally every six months.

Appraisals are normally conducted face to face, and the discussions recorded and documented. During the discussion, the trainee should have an opportunity to ask questions and to raise any concerns they may have.

To help you prepare for your seat reviews, I have put together this advice based on my experience of being a trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths.

Fail to prepare…

At the beginning of your seat, be proactive in setting some objectives with your supervisor. I have used this opportunity to set myself challenges, for example, present a case law update to the team or organise a team social. Teams will often have produced a ‘trainee checklist’, and this is really useful particularly where you may not be overly familiar with the tasks a certain team undertakes.

In advance of your seat reviews, whether that be part-way through or at the end of your seat, ensure you are tracking your performance against your objectives. If, for whatever reason, obtainment of an objective hasn’t been possible, it probably won’t be the end of the world but ensure you can explain why and what you’ve been doing instead.

At Shoosmiths, we use a programme called Unity Trainee (formally Online Mentor) to digitally record the trainee tasks we complete on a daily basis. Having a print-out of your trainee ‘diary’ entries to hand in your seat review will help jog your memory and enable your supervisor to have a clearer picture of matters you’ve been working on.

In addition to this, if you have any questions or things you want to discuss, write them down on a notepad ready to jot down some notes during the meeting if you need to. Alongside this I will have my ‘performance development review’ handy, which I will have completed at least 48 hours beforehand and sent to my supervisor for their review and comment. This document enables us to reflect on particular aspects of the seat and my progress. If your firm doesn’t require you to complete such a document, it may be worth producing your own version anyway!

It’s a two way street

Treat your seat reviews (particularly your mid-seat review) as an opportunity to gather constructive feedback from your supervisor. In order to be the best trainee you can be, it helps to know the areas in which you can improve. Remember, it’s called a training contract for a reason!

If you have any particular concerns, whether that be work-related or personal, your supervisor is there to offer support. I have been lucky to have had really supportive supervisors. If I feel as though I’d like more experience in completing particular tasks or working with particular people, I voice this to my supervisor and we work on a plan of action.

PMA

Positive mental attitude. Granted this is often something easier said than done, but I find working on improving your outlook on things and striving to be a better version of yourself can only be a good thing! With this in mind, going into your seat reviews with the intention of it being a positive learning experience will not only impress your supervisor, but will help with your development in being the lawyer you want to be.

Takeaway tips

Set objectives for yourself to achieve over short timeframes (six months)

Keep all your seat review documentation in easily locatable folders (digital preferably… think of the trees) for future reference.

Consider any feedback received and use that to aid your professional development.

Track your own progress and identify areas in which you’d like more experience – be vocal about it.#

Hold more regular informal meetings with your supervisor to track your progress and ensure you’re getting the most out of your seat.

For more advice on making the most of your training contract, read  Pardeep’s blog post ‘Sense and sensibility – making the most of you training contract’.

If you’d like to apply for a summer vacation placement or training contract at Shoosmiths, click here.

For anything else you, you can contact the graduate recruitment team via twitter or email.

Disclaimer

This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.

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