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How to adopt a growth mindset as a Trainee Solicitor

I recently attended an inspirational and interactive session hosted by Curve on ‘Growth Mindset’ as part of the Michelmores’ annual meeting – the ‘Big Conversation’ – which led me to consider more about how this outlook could help to support life as a Trainee Solicitor.

In this article, I share my biggest takeaways from the session and some further recommendations for how prospective and current trainees can apply a growth mindset on their path to qualification.

What is a growth mindset?

The term growth mindset was first coined by Carol Dweck in 2014 when she distinguished between having a fixed mindset and a growth mindset[1]. She considered that:

“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” (Dweck, 2015)

She further commented that, typically, those with a fixed mindset would spend their time documenting their intelligence rather than considering how they could develop it further. The mindset means thinking that talent alone creates success without effort.

She then contrasted this with a growth mindset:

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.” (Dweck, 2015)

Those with a growth mindset consequently focus a lot more on learning and developing their skills. Having this mindset can also produce resilience which is vital in workplace settings such as in law.

The five fundamental elements of a growth mindset are:

  • Intelligence can be developed
  • Embrace challenges
  • Persist in the face of setbacks
  • Learn from criticism
  • Find inspiration in the success of others.

A person usually does not have just one mindset or the other. Typically, a person can fluctuate between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset as many as 40 times a day depending on the different tasks and conversations they might be undertaking.

How can I apply a growth mindset generally?

In its simplest form, a growth mindset is taking any negative restrictive thought relating to your ability or skills and adding the word “yet” to the end. For example, someone with a fixed mindset, might say:

“I am not good at keeping on top of my administration”.

Someone with a growth mindset, on the other hand might say:

“I am not good at keeping on top of my administration YET”.

This might seem awkward or forced but it invites the speaker to consider how they might work to develop the skill or improve their awareness.

How can I apply a growth mindset as a Trainee?

As a Trainee, I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought:

  • “I don’t know how to do that”;
  • “I can’t do that”; or
  • “I’m not good at that” (most commonly).

These thoughts are both restrictive and prohibitive of growth and development but are very common, and something that many trainees, and prospective trainees, are likely to experience.

Re-framing in your mind the simplest of sentences and considering what you might do to improve and develop is essential to growth within your chosen career. But more so, a growth mindset is a habit. It may not come naturally, but practice can revolutionise the way we process learning experiences and grow and develop professionally as a result.

As trainees, we must learn to adopt a mindset of growth and development if we are to maximise our potential as lawyers of the future. If we do this, we can contribute to making a change so that we, as the next generation of senior lawyers, are as adaptable and progressive as possible, so that we not only achieve our potential but also contribute in the best way that we can to the future direction of the firm, our knowledge and expertise as a firm and ensuring that we provide the best quality service to our clients.

When have I used a growth mindset?

Since I began my training contract with Michelmores, there have been many occasions where I have felt unsure about a task I had been asked to do. Adopting the mindset of “I don’t know how to do this yet, but how can I find out” has been an excellent tool for developing my knowledge and expertise.

For example, as one of my first trainee tasks, I was asked to do research on international divorce jurisdiction for a Taiwanese divorce. I was initially daunted by the task and didn’t know where to start. It would have been very easy for me to give up and ask somebody in the team for the answer. However, applying the mindset of “what can I do to find this information out myself”, I conducted further research on Lexis and Westlaw and found information on a few cases which supported my research. I was able to put together a complex research note which was useful for my supervisor and I developed my own research skills which I have used multiple times since for other research tasks.

When working alongside other solicitors, particularly partners, who have been in the business for a long time, I have often felt the “imposter syndrome” that I’m not good at certain tasks. But maintaining perspective and adopting the growth mindset which views development as an ongoing process enables me to be positive about what I can achieve if I work hard, rather than dwelling on any difficulties or mistakes at the time.

Concluding thoughts

At any level, adopting a growth mindset is an active choice towards bettering yourself in your career. As trainees in an increasingly competitive industry, this is more important than ever.

My key takeaways from the workshop are to never generalise my abilities, to recognise when I am speaking negatively about myself and my skills, and to ask myself instead what I might be able to do to develop that particular skill for the future.

[1] Dweck, Carol S. Mindset. Ballantine Books, 2008.