Trainee Blog: Reflecting on my first week as a trainee solicitor
Starting in September 2022, I joined the Firm's Contentious Probate team in Exeter. I decided to document the first week of my training contract and deliver a reflective blog post focusing on my experience.
In the weeks prior to joining the team, I undertook a comprehensive IT induction and completed the core modules of the Professional Skills Course. I also arranged to meet my supervisor and a trainee who had previously undertaken a seat in the team, which gave me the opportunity to ask questions about my team and the work I would be involved in.
The funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took place on Monday. To commemorate her reign and to mark the final day of national mourning, the Firm's offices were closed for the day.
My day started with a short commute by train to the Firm's Exeter office. Although I took the train today, I intend to cycle into the office when the weather is fairer. Indeed, the Firm supports employees to consider their carbon footprint.
After locating my desk for the day, I was warmly greeted by my team. Any first-day nerves I had were swiftly put to rest. This was a good opportunity to quiz everyone about the day-to-day practicalities of working in the team. For example, which days do most people work from the office?
The HR team arranged for our cohort of first-year trainees to attend a short meeting with the Firm's managing partner and senior partner, each of whom provided an exciting overview of the Firm's strategy. It was great to see the Firm's growth strategy and to be able to spend time with senior management from such an early stage.
For the remainder of the morning, we attended a meeting with our Knowledge and Information Services team who provided a useful overview of the Firm's resources, research databases and knowledge-sharing tools. It was a valuable refresher and the session left me feeling confident in my ability to use the Firm's knowledge resources.
After lunch, I was asked to conduct a research task concerning the possible limitation period for a claim. This was a good opportunity to get stuck in and to put my research skills to the test. I prepared an email which summarised my research, before following up to have an informal discussion with the solicitor who set the task. As a trainee, it is important to ask for feedback on your work to help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and importantly to broaden your skillset over the duration of the training contract.
In the morning, my supervisor asked me if I would like to join her in attending a client mediation at the end of the week. This was an exciting opportunity – and on my first week! I said yes and confirmed that I would take steps to prepare. My supervisor also asked me to prepare a first draft settlement agreement before the mediation so that we had a working draft ready in case we settled on the day.
Much of my morning was spent navigating the case file and reading the claim documents, client papers and key interparty correspondence. To help familiarise myself with the case, I prepared a chronology with the key dates, documents and the parties. Given the nature of your role as a trainee, you are called to assist on cases which may have been running for several months or even years, so it is important to take the time to understand the background and key events. I also found it helpful speaking to another solicitor in my team who was familiar with the matter. It gave me a good opportunity to assess my understanding while absorbing the collective knowledge in the team.
Over lunch, I caught up with several other trainees to find out how everyone had been getting on so far. It is critical to build a close support network amongst your trainee cohort. We are all in the same position and we are constantly sharing our experiences and the tips we have picked up along the way. A few of the second-year trainees were at lunch too and it was great to hear about the cases that they are involved in.
In the afternoon, I made a start on preparing a case update for my team ahead of a knowledge sharing session being held at the end of the month. The Firm involves trainees in its internal knowledge sharing sessions which might involve you preparing legal updates, drafting, or researching an article or preparing commercial updates for clients. These provide excellent opportunities to read into the current legal and commercial issues affecting your practice area.
On Thursday, a solicitor in my team asked me to draft instructions to a property valuation expert. In preparation, I took the opportunity to ask questions about the case background and the letter structure. This included asking questions about:
- What level of detail was required in the case background and instructions?
- Had the team prepared similar letters in the past?
- When did the letter need to be prepared?
- How long should I spend on the task?
It can be daunting when faced with a new task, but it is crucial to understand what is being asked of you and when it needs to be completed.
One of the partners in my team asked me if I wanted to join her in two client meetings in order to take an attendance note. This was a good introduction to two of the Firm's clients, but it also offered the chance for me to observe a senior solicitor deliver legal advice face-to-face.
Throughout the day, I drafted the instructions and prepared a first draft of the settlement agreement ahead of Friday's mediation. I also set aside an hour at the end of the working day to update my training contract diary. The diary is designed to help trainees record the work done over the course of their training contract as well as to review their progress against the SRA practice skills checklist. While it is an SRA requirement, the diary is also a great way to reflect on your journey of learning and provides an opportunity to develop the skillset necessary to become a successful solicitor.
On Friday I decided to work from home. The mediation was being held remotely and I thought that it would be a good opportunity to try out the home office working environment the Firm has provided. During the mediation, I was responsible for accurately recording negotiations, advice to our client and terms of any offers made/received throughout the day. I was also responsible for locating miscellaneous documents held on file to aid discussions.
By the end of the day, the parties had reached a settlement and I was delighted to see that my efforts preparing the settlement agreement had paid off. For my learning purposes, my supervisor spent time explaining her drafting amendments to the document which reflected the terms of settlement. This was another good opportunity for me to learn from supervisor feedback on my work.
My top tips
Reflecting on my first week as a trainee, I would recommend that any future trainees take a note of the following:
- Be enthusiastic and do not be afraid to ask questions. Get involved in as much work as you can and say yes to as many things as you can take on. If you are stuck, don't sit on it. Reach out to someone, be it your supervisor, your team, or a fellow trainee.
- Get to know your team (and beyond)! Internal connections are invaluable – and do not only focus on senior colleagues. Take the time get to know your team's paralegals and legal support assistants. It also pays dividends to get to know the other trainees, especially those who have spent time in your team previously.
- Ask for feedback. Make a point of asking for constructive feedback on your work to strive to improve for next time.
- Have a task list to organise your day. Due to the nature of the role, you are likely to receive work from all angles, across the team and throughout the working day. Some tasks are more urgent than others and it can be difficult to keep track of everything using your memory alone. Set up a working task list, ideally one which you update daily and one for the week. Tick off the tasks as you go along and remember to set reminders and deadlines in your diary.
- Enjoy the experience! It is worth reminding yourself that this is your training contract and there is a steep learning curve. There will also be tough days when nothing makes sense, but it is important to step back, look at the big picture and remember to enjoy the journey.
We have recently published two articles which cover the question of how you can prepare for your training contract (A Q&A with Future Trainees by Will Dyer and How to make the most of your first seat by Hamish Scott).