Not a trainee, not yet a solicitor

This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 28 October 2014 and is reproduced by kind permission (

Beginning my official role as a junior solicitor (although, technically, not yet, because at the time of writing my signature boasts that I am actually a “Legal Assistant awaiting admission to the Law Society”) has made me feel awfully nostalgic.

People don’t appreciate how long it takes to train to be a solicitor and they certainly don’t appreciate that a lot of us have to start grafting towards the end product before even getting near to commencing the training contract. As a result, there is a distinct lack of jubilation among my friends and family regarding my upcoming qualification, mainly due to the fact that they believe that I have been a solicitor for at least two years now. I hate to admit that I have had to shelve my indignation over this fact, accepting that I myself am having trouble pinpointing the precise change.

Rather than realising my visions of stepping into the office on the first day of my new contract as a ‘grown-up’ version of my former trainee self (fully capable, shiny and entirely solicitoresque), I have to admit that although it may not say trainee on the tin any more, the contents feel very much unaltered. I was expecting a defining moment where colleagues and clients suddenly started expecting me to know everything, or at least to experience a flood of proficiency, but what I wasn’t anticipating was the feeling that I am merely rotating seats again, albeit to an area I am already familiar with.

I have concluded, however, that this is because I am the result of a job well done. I have been supported yet challenged, cosseted when I needed it and yet allowed and encouraged to act independently and take initiative. Above all, I have never been treated like a trainee – often synonymous in other law firms with ‘slave’.

From the day I started my training contract I have felt like an active and valuable member of the firm. Perhaps if I had been made to feel like more of a ‘bottom feeder’ during my training contract, I might have noticed a marked difference on becoming a fully-fledged and legitimate part of the firm.

Similarly, had I not been simultaneously pushed and protected throughout my period of training, perhaps I would not have taken for granted the high level of interest in and commitment to my personal progression. However, the fact is that I have been made to feel competent and comfortable from my first day onwards and no doubt this will continue as my career progresses. The ethos of ‘treat them like junior solicitors and they will become junior solicitors’ is a highly effective one from which I have benefited greatly.

The transformation is not an overnight one. I have actually been a junior solicitor for some time now without realising it. My advice for those trainees who have just started their training contract?

Say yes to everything, but, more importantly, learn how to say “yes, but not today” for the sake of your own sanity. Be yourself, because on a two-year job interview you can’t maintain any façade you might want to present to the firm and, crucially, because you will negate your ability to ascertain whether you are right for them and vice versa.

Actively seek guidance in equal measure to responsibility and ultimately take responsibility for your own career, because unless you are incredibly fortunate, no one else is going to do it for you.