You have succeeded in getting a training contract which is by no means an easy feat – our post on ‘Is getting a training contract difficult?’ shows getting a training contract is difficult, and as such you deserve a pat on the back. What next though? Do you rest on your laurels? Of course not, because you will have to excel as your training contract determines if you’ll be retained by your firm. The ideas below will help you in your quest to be the best you can be on your training contract.
If you can exercise the ideas in this post and any more you can find, you’ll give yourself a higher chance of being offered a role when you qualify.
Attention to Detail
As a trainee solicitor, you will most likely work across a variety of practice areas (seats) in your firm, and your role in each seat will most likely vary in responsibilities. However, you must develop and harness several key skills that are required to be successful in the programme. These skills comprise a variety of hard and soft skills that are both specific to your firm. One that applies across firms is the display of high attention to detail in every task or seat you are assigned, no matter if you think the task is mind-numbing. Whether it is booking meeting rooms, preparing court bundles, liaising with clerks at chambers, photocopying millions of papers, filing documents on the document management system, drafting covering letters or researching boring topics, your attention to detail for each task should be immaculate – you don’t want to be known as that trainee that is unable to complete his tasks well.
You are an aspiring solicitor; you cannot run away from drafting as it is a fundamental piece that determines if a solicitor will be successful. Successful solicitors will have excellent drafting skills. However, if your drafting skill is not excellent, that is to be expected as you are still a trainee. What is not however expected is to not improve it to a good level during your training programme. During your program, your firm will most likely have a folder of precedent documents covering most [if not all] legal issues in their practice areas. Use the precedent documents to develop your skill, incorporate your way of writing while making sure that all the clauses you insert into your document should be there and do not fundamentally change the intention of your clients. Essentially do not copy and paste, instead make sure that by using the first skill talked about in this post you make your draft bespoke to the issue in question.
Communication Skill & Communication
Communication skill for solicitors is the art of carefully listening to clients, paying attention to their challenges & concerns, and using different methods of communication to earn the client’s trust by giving them the legal advice they need. For a trainee, in the beginning, the main one will be writing, because you’ll perform many writing tasks throughout your workdays. Legal writing, documenting research work and casework, writing query letters, letters of demand and other applications are several writing tasks you’ll come across as a trainee. As time goes on and you are trusted with more client contact, the need to develop other modes of communication will be non-negotiable: speaking, verbal, non-verbal, visual and so and so forth. A good trainee is unambiguous and can write and speak in clear English in all his correspondence.
The second part of communication which you must develop is the ability to convey or share your ideas and feelings effectively, especially with your supervisor. If you won’t be able to meet up with the tasks assigned to you, instead of being overwhelmed and breaking down, it is better to express your concerns to the right people, such as your supervisor, trainee buddy or training principal. The intensity of training contracts will vary dependent on the firm but something that does not vary is their intention to support you one way or the other throughout your journey. Furthermore, communicating with your supervisor should not only be for gloomy situations, you should communicate to keep him/her abreast of developments in your programme, such as the change of a seat, taking of new responsibilities, receiving feedback, and so on. By way of communicating with your supervisor, you’ll manage your workload which is a very important step to excelling on your contract.
Thou Should not Bite More Than What he can Chew
Perhaps in your quest to impress your supervisor or the training principal, you commit yourself to several tasks with corresponding deadlines which makes it impossible for you to deliver on all of them as at when due. A word of advice it is better to take on a few projects/tasks that you are sure that you’d be able to deliver the results within or around the timeframe assigned to you than to take on numerous tasks that you are unable to finish. Lest we forget, when you are assigned projects, make sure that you prioritize them by their importance.
Don’t Neglect Your Professional Skills Course
While embarking on the projects assigned to you during your training contract, you’ll be mandated to partake in the Professional Skills Course (PSC) – the PSC is the final stage of compulsory training to become a solicitor. It consists of three core modules and a series of electives that you can choose based on the practice areas you would like to embark on. To be efficient you’ll need to learn to manage your time so you can study for the course and deliver your work.
Put in the Work
When you start your training contract say adios to any and every conception of working a 9-5 job, especially for those who have been employed by a City firm (the Magic Circle, US firms and their like). The workload of a solicitor is demanding and so is that of a trainee solicitor. While you will not be expected to work as hard as an experienced solicitor, you’ll be expected to still be hard work. Expect to miss some evening plans for your work; expect to commit some weekends to accomplish certain deadlines. In the past, some trainee solicitors have reported staying in the office way after midnight to accomplish tasks. Your ability to go beyond the normal for the work will not only show your commitment but will help you develop quicker as a solicitor.
Socialize & Be Friendly
You are probably saying wait a second. I just said that you should expect to sacrifice your weekday evenings and weekends for work, so how do I expect you to socialize? A fantastic question truth be told. Herein lays the answer. During your training contract, you will have fellow trainees whom you should make time to socialize with. With law firms still dealing with the effect of lockdown caused by COVID – although the lifting of restrictions by the government should mean thousands of law firm staff will be returning to their offices – the issue of socializing with your colleagues has never been more important. Firms want their trainee solicitors to be sociable, to be able to work seamlessly with their colleagues. To have a fruitful programme, endeavour to take the time to partake in social events held by the firm, or organize one, exercise, meet friends (at a distance), be friendly with the non-legal personnel at your firm and do anything else that helps your mental & physical wellbeing, and shows you as a warm approachable individual.
Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)
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