As we know, applying to law firms can be quite a stressful and unnerving experience for a variety of reasons: balancing studies/work with applications, attending open days to get to know each firm and hours of research to shine at the interview are but a few. The good news is, however, that if you are reading this article the chances are your hard work has paid off! Whether you are about to attend a vacation scheme or work experience placement, or perhaps you are about to commence your training contract or start your next seat you will likely be feeling the pressure to impress. I have spoken to Mark Howard and Neil Mason, two trainee supervisors at Michelmores, for their top tips on what they are looking for and share some of their tips below.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to bring five new clients with you on your first day, or work 10 hours a day, but it is certainly advisable to make an impression for the right reasons. You should not only set yourself challenging targets to succeed but also ensure that they are achievable. If you haven’t heard of it before, a useful approach is to ensure your standards are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound.
Your working style is the key to impressing in a legal role. If you are set a specific task and have finished it within the deadline, don’t just send it straight through to your supervisor without first checking it yourself. The aim here is to “treat each piece of work as if it will go straight to the client.” If it is full of typos and doesn’t have a conclusion or summary, then your client would not be happy – and neither would your supervisor!
If you finish the task early and have checked your work you could also take some time to think about what the next steps may be and make suggestions to your supervisor, such as whether additional research may be required. This is a fantastic way to show you have engaged with the work and thought about how it fits within the matter as a whole, whilst using your initiative to aid your supervisor moving forward.
When speaking to Neil, he shared that a key skill for any trainee is to learn how to prioritise their time. This means carving out sufficient time to complete a task and being open with your supervisor if you are struggling to meet deadlines. Trainees can quickly become very busy if all members of the team ask for their assistance, don’t be afraid to ask for an extension for a task or even explain that you cannot take it on at this time if you do not have the capacity to do so.
Neil added that as a trainee you should “never be in any doubt about why you are doing what you are doing.” The reality is that your work will likely be brand new to you, as will the firm itself. If you are asked to complete a task which you have not attempted before then you should be confident to ask questions to ensure that you understand the brief and will return suitable work. Asking questions to ensure that you can complete a new task to a high standard will never be frowned upon. Saying this, it is incredibly important that when you are asking questions you make notes of the answer and use your initiative to think of potential solutions before approaching your supervisor.
Both Mark and Neil shared that they would not expect someone who had just started to know everything about the work they were doing or the particular sector they operated in. However, both Mark and Neil highlighted that by the end of each seat, you should have developed a foundational knowledge of that sector and team and refine your questions about the work as you gain experience to enable you to do so.
Additionally, the importance of feedback cannot be understated. Aim to get feedback on each piece of work that you complete and apply the feedback to future tasks, similar to making a note of the questions and answers above. It is important to learn from mistakes you make in your work so that they aren’t repeated in the future.
To assist with this, it is also really important to make the most of every opportunity that you can. This doesn’t just apply to billable work, but also to business development opportunities as well, such as client presentations. These will provide a fantastic opportunity to network and build long lasting connections which in turn will provide further opportunities for you to learn.
My thanks to Mark Howard and Neil Mason for their time and comments to be used in this article.