Aside from figuring out how to incorporate Bon Jovi lyrics into a blog title, I have learned a great deal during my first year as a trainee solicitor. Having never worked in an office before joining Michelmores, much of this has been learning how to work effectively in the new environment. That is not to downplay the plethora of “lawyering” skills I have picked up on my crash-course to becoming a qualified solicitor. Here are a few lessons which have characterised my first 12 months:
In your first few weeks as a trainee, despite the giddiness and enthusiasm for your new surroundings, nerves can take hold. For me, nerves made it very daunting to approach more senior colleagues and strike up a conversation or ask a question about a matter; I remember the fear of being turned away or wasting someone’s time. However, you will soon realise that sitting and stewing on a question, or browsing the depths of the internet for an answer, wastes more time than walking over to another desk and asking for help. I remember spending hours on a research task and, when presenting my findings to the supervising lawyer, I discovered that they already knew most of it. Make sure you understand the full picture before diving into a task; the best way to achieve that is often to have a proper conversation about it. Your more experienced colleagues will be happy to help and, more often than not, will be pleased to hear that you have questions. It shows that you are interested and engaging with the work that you are doing.
Speaking to your colleagues also opens the door to receiving constructive feedback. Feedback can sometimes be difficult to get hold of when rattling through tasks and sending out draft documents or research notes to various fee-earners. Taking a moment to start a conversation will present an opportunity to ask for someone’s thoughts on your work; what went well and what could be improved.
Michelmores’ open-plan office is designed for easy communication. In my current seat, I am sitting within earshot of two partners and one senior associate. This allows me not only to ask questions of these far more experienced lawyers, but also to catch snippets of insight. This has helped me develop a more organic understanding of the work the firm does and how its clients operate.
When joining Michelmores as a trainee, it is important to come in with an open mind. Be prepared to be challenged and be willing to step outside your comfort zone. What you get stuck into may well vary according to your seat. For example, whilst in the Education team I visited schools across the country to give presentations to some of our clients, and even presented at the BETT Show to educational software companies (that’s right, public speaking). During my corporate seat, on the other hand, I have involved myself in some complex acquisitions and corporate finance deals which have presented entirely different challenges. I am not saying that you have to be a “yes man” and stack your workload up to the point of collapse, but I have been able to develop key skills by taking on unfamiliar tasks.
Volunteering yourself to assist with other lawyers’ work can also expose you to interesting and challenging work that otherwise may pass you by. This follows on from my first lesson: communication is key. If you hear that a colleague is stretched, or simply that they are working on something that interests you, throw your hat in the ring. You could also earn brownie points for showing willingness to help out your team.
Beyond the core “legal” work, I have also learned that there is great value in networking. You can learn a lot at the events that you attend and the people you meet when you get there. It is never too early to start building your personal network. Don’t just take it from me – Gemma Neath talks all about the art of networking in her trainee blog, “Networking and building relationships“.
As a trainee solicitor at Michelmores, you will sit down twice during each seat for a formal review with your supervisor. I have had four of these reviews since joining Michelmores and “attention to detail” is discussed every time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as my supervisor assures me; it is a skill that continues to develop throughout your career. It is certainly a skill that takes time to master, and your time as a trainee is the perfect opportunity to get to grips with it.
During my first year I have also learned the importance of taking your time when carrying out work; even where you feel under pressure. Keeping calm and focussing instead on the precise details of the document you are working on will save you having to revisit it later; pause, think, proof-read and make sure you have addressed all of the relevant issues.
My first year as a trainee solicitor at Michelmores has been a real learning curve (pardon the cliché) and the next twelve months will no-doubt bring a totally different array of opportunities and challenges as I approach qualification.
If you have any other questions on being a trainee please tweet us @MMTrainees.