Rotations: A first-hand account of the epic journey from first seat…to second seat

Rotations: A first-hand account of the epic journey from first seat…to second seat

I found my first seat rotation incredibly challenging, but hugely educational. So, inspired by butterfly season, and in preparation for September rotations, I thought it timely to blog about change, and the unseen, but necessary ‘chrysalis’ moments of a long legal career.

The First Seat

Trainees get offered their training contracts a couple of years in advance, and I know others, like me, spent that time not only studying, but also mentally preparing for the experience. I worked on my open mindset, I prepared to fail, and I had my positive reframing tools all raring to go.

This stood me in great stead in my first seat. I was comfortable asking questions and getting things wrong and I felt as though I was learning every day. Towards the final few months of my first seat, I started to feel like part of the team and understood what was expected from me on a day-to-day basis. I felt comfortable – which is great! But I also neglected to prepare for leaving that comfort zone.

Time for Change

Seat rotations offer a uniquely jarring experience of arriving at your workplace, where everything is familiar – but, like some (pretty boring) episode of the twilight-zone, it is repeatedly your first day at work.

I refused to accept myself as a beginner again and felt deeply uncomfortable knowing nothing in my new seat. I felt panicked when I didn’t know what instructions meant – let alone what I was supposed to deliver in response to them. Rather than ask more questions and get a better steer on this, I instead I spent my time worrying and catastrophizing.

I overthought moments where I’d been unable to answer a question, or where I’d gotten something wrong. I’d inherited the seat from another first-year trainee so all of this insecurity was heighted, and I spent pointless energy comparing my performance to an imagined perfection that no one else was judging me against.

The universe served my slice of humble pie with silver service flair, because I, with all the hubris of a first seat trainee, recently wrote an article about how to confront some of these trainee feelings. I am a big advocate for challenging your comfort zone – but this one snuck up on me. I hadn’t realised how comfortable I was in my first seat, so I hadn’t mentally prepared for the change.

No one warns you about the rotations – and in fairness, I can see why. The trainee program at Michelmores is excellent and incredibly supportive. My new team were welcoming and gave me the time to be a beginner – I was the one creating pressure for myself. I had a dedicated and hands-on supervisor and I had just completed Michelmores’ resilience training – the experience I’m describing was an internalised, personal one that arose out of being jolted back to the beginning (do not pass GO, do not collect £200!), just when I was gaining momentum.

I soon realised however, that I was not alone. Not only in my trainee cohort, but also after speaking to qualified colleagues, I realised transitioning out of your comfort zone is a necessary part of progression in the legal industry. From trainee to newly qualified, from Senior Associate to Partner – transition, growth, and challenge are continuous and essential parts of this career, and are also the qualities that encouraged many of my colleagues to become lawyers in the first place.

This was the perfect opportunity to learn how to embrace this discomfort and learn how to manage my weaknesses so I can react in a more constructive way, and ideally, progress quicker in the future. So, it was time to ask myself in my best Michael Caine voice “Why do we fall?”, cover half of my face with my hands and growl back at my reflection – “So, we can learn to pick ourselves up.” If you think comparing myself to Batman is a tad self-indulgent, I suggest you do not continue reading to the end of this article.

 A Legal Butterfly

I spoke with my supervisor and was honest with how I was feeling. Unsurprisingly (as I hadn’t communicated anything) she had no idea I was feeling insecure and reassured me. She highlighted the positive feedback I’d been given – that I simply hadn’t believed, choosing to believe instead they were polite platitudes because my work had been so unimpressive. It was an important lesson in how selective a personal narrative can be, and how important communication is to keeping it in check.

After this moment, I just relaxed. Unfortunately, not on a beach in the Maldives with a magnum of Champagne and a straw – but as much as one can whilst completing a training contract in Devon. I leaned into being a beginner in this new team. I rationalised what I was actually doing and stopped taking myself so seriously. I put more effort into communicating with my team, understanding their expectations and being honest about what I didn’t know – which in turn made me more comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and requesting feedback.

So, to round off this TedTalk, I’m now settled in my second seat – and I love it. I’m enjoying being comfortable – but I now know that’s not the point of this training contract experience, or this career. So, I’m getting ready to get uncomfortable again, and find the positives in my next transition, hopefully practicing what I preach. A yoga teacher once said to me – “when nothing is certain – anything is possible”. I’m using this as a mantra for my next going to rotation, and plan to lean in and enjoy my final opportunities to be a complete beginner again in this career. Third seat – come at me!