This trainee is an 'axolotl'
September is hatching season for solicitors. Two years in the making, former trainees land in new jobs with no six-month shelf life. They are not yet solicitors; their email signatures identify them as 'legal assistants awaiting admission to the Law Society', the kind of cumbersome, literal title favoured by Roman emperors.
Qualification has, by all accounts, been a restless experience but, with the speculation and deal-making now over, the awaiting Assistants seem calm and philosophical. They sense that a process is about to conclude, in which they will lose their larval gills, develop lungs and leave the water. To a trainee with a year still to wait, they appear larger than life, hyper-real in the way teenagers seem to schoolchildren.
NQs are candid about their experiences and the months after qualification are a good time to get an insight into what you, a pre-metamorphosis trainee, are heading towards. Popular themes include the weirdness of being able to sign legally determinative correspondence, who got given a desk with a view and, almost universally, how the new job title is going to take some serious growing into. The on-paper transformation may be complete but your pre-existing habits, expectations and anxieties remain intact.
This is an excuse to write about axolotls. Axolotls are amphibians found in a single lake in Mexico; the Aztecs ate them and science digs them in a big way. The axolotl genome is ten times larger than ours and, like other salamanders, injured axolotls can completely regenerate limbs, and even complex organs like eyes and spinal cords, in a matter of weeks. An axolotl also has a permanent dreamy grin that says: everything's fine, I'm adorable and we both know it. Like most of the coolest things in nature, axolotls are grievously endangered.
Unusually among amphibians, axolotls reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis. A fully-grown axolotl has all the physical and behavioural traits of a junior but it lives, mates and gets on with all the usual adult axolotl business regardless. While it's clear who's in charge when a frog wades in with the tadpoles, a senior axolotl is, simplistically, just a bigger example of its young.
Lawyers several decades into the game still have traits in common with trainees. Partners carry out research, seek advice from more experienced colleagues, have moments of doubt. An upcoming overhaul of the Insolvency Rules saw my supervising partner taking home copies of the new legislation and cramming like a student; for a very brief period, I might have known as much about the rules as he did, although he quickly widened the gap. In some ways I can do the same things he can – he just does them better by an order of magnitude.
If anointment as a solicitor is not a metamorphosis, and more a re-branding of your skill-set to date, you want to be as developed as possible before the day comes. While enjoying the protection of supervision, you should try to fend for yourself; offer your own methods or solutions to problems and risk occasionally being corrected. Your supervisor will help you learn your limits and should encourage your monitored independence.
Your two years will involve lacerating experiences; occasional weekends consumed by work overspill, breathless failures to network at marketing events. Like the axolotl, you can regenerate any figurative limbs lost and move on. It is these experiences, rather than the ceremony of qualification, that will make you a professional, and the growth process thereafter continues indefinitely. There is no Damascene transformation separating you from the biggest amphibians in the lake; time, a knack for survival and a slice of luck will get you there.
If you have any other questions on being a trainee please comment below or tweet us @MMTrainees