This article was first published in Private Client Adviser on 18 December 2013 and is reproduced by kind permission (www.privateclientadviser.co.uk).
Four years studying Law can only take you so far. Nothing during that time prepares you for the practicalities of your training contract, especially if it is also your first office job.
Previously I have had only ‘summer jobs’, predominantly farm labour (aside from a brief stint waitressing brought to a timely end by an incident involving lobster bisque and an Armani jacket). Whilst my education and part-time jobs had equipped me with the requisite education and work ethic to fit the trainee mould, in reality I was ill-prepared for a full-time job. I don’t mean the politics, but the practicalities.
One of the hardest things that I wrestle with is how to use secretaries. However cliché, secretaries are the foundation and driving force of any law firm. Their knowledge is vast and their role invaluable. Therefore, it is not the discussions with or research for the partners that plunges me into a cold sweat, it is asking a secretary to do something for me. As a trainee, how can you possibly feel justified delegating to someone of that aptitude? I have wasted time agonising over asking and I have wasted even more time in doing tasks myself that I should have in reality, delegated. And yet no secretary I have ever come across has ever made me feel like I shouldn’t be asking for their help. I have even been berated on occasion for doing things myself or for my grovelling thanks.
Another thing I hadn’t considered was that when you work full-time, you don’t have a summer holiday. July rolled around last year and the realisation dawned. For the first time in my life I wasn’t automatically due a month respite. I found myself wanting to travel back in time to shake Pippa of the past and tell her to stop whining about how hard it is to be a student. Also, no-one ever told me that as a trainee, 70% of the time that you speak to someone more senior than you, any ability you once had to effectively verbalise your thoughts is lost. You open your mouth to find that anxiety has afforded you the communication skills of a rock.
These are all things which the law degree doesn’t prepare you for. Even the LPC, with all of its supposedly ‘practical’ focus, didn’t prevent me from spending hours trying to format my first letter so that the address lined up with the envelope window, before finding the letter template. It didn’t teach me how to fix printer jams or not to wear your skirt suit to site visits without carrying a sewing kit. Sometimes trainees come to their contract after having had previous jobs, and I envy them this advantage over the ‘traditional’ route that I took.
Occasionally I have moments when I feel overwhelmed by the fact that I have a career, I’m training to be a solicitor, and these are the hallmarks of a grown-up. Mostly I forget how long I have been aspiring to make this a reality. It feels like something that other people do, and I am amazed when I remember that in fact it is something that I do. I remember that I am on a two-year job interview. I have anxiety that someone will come to my desk and scream “FRAUD”. The fact that I only have these panic attacks occasionally says a great deal about the way my colleagues make me feel. The reason I am not in a perpetual state of angst is because I am made to feel at ease here.
Sometimes at marketing events or client meetings I realise I am talking about the law and someone is listening. Not only that, but I know what I am talking about. I realise I am having a genuine professional discussion, with someone who looks at me and sees a future solicitor. I have finally got here without even realising that I had. I would love to know if these moments of realisation will abate once I qualify or as my career draws on, or whether everyone suffers from flashes of reality every now and again.