Readers of this blog will be familiar with trainees recounting their experiences of starting their training contracts and all the major life adjustments that come with it, especially for those fresh from education without much work experience behind them! However, in this blog I want to talk the next step in the process: the step up into the second year.
As a quick recap, training contracts at Michelmores operate on a two year basis, with all trainees taken in at a September intake and qualifying two years later. In that time you work in four different practice areas for six month blocks, known as seats. There are some firms using alternatives to this, however the system at Michelmores remains the norm for the legal sector.
Speaking for my intake, I think we were all aware when we started that there would be more expected of us after a year at the firm. The performance review matrix for second year trainees is a good deal longer, and full of scary words like ‘responsibility’, ‘ownership’ and ‘initiative’. Looking at the relative skills and confidence of those in the year above us we were also aware that there was going to have to be some kind of dramatic change if we were going to be on par at the same stage in our training contracts.
Whilst waiting for said change (I was expecting a Eureka! Moment, but sadly my bath-times have been unperturbed by such epiphanies), I found myself in my third seat. The expectations are certainly much higher – I am now expected to know the systems inside out, expected to act with much greater autonomy and to have much greater involvement in all aspects of working on files. I am also expected to account for my time much more than previously, justifying time spent and/or written off to those responsible for billing, and working closely to budgets.
A training contract is a steep learning curve. Or, more accurately, a series of steep learning curves − each rotation you find yourself in a new department and have to find your feet with the law, clients and way the department operates. The skills and expectations mentioned above are a further challenge added into the mix.
But, actually, I find myself just doing all of these things which seemed so out of reach in my first few weeks. I have learned all of these things (and so much more!) gradually over my training so far. When I look back at just how far I have come, it feels a bit like glancing back down a mountain. Yes, it is still a long way to the top, but I didn’t really realise the progress I have made until I took the time to stop and think about it.
The great thing about all this? In transitioning to a role where you are under more pressure and expected to do more, you also feel like a proper member of the team. There were many times in my first few months where I felt like a passenger, helping where I could but lacking the skills or experience to make a meaningful contribution. Now, I often feel like a valuable team member, trusted with tasks and responsibilities integral to the matter or deal I am working on.
And the more you develop, the more you are given. Michelmores is keen to give responsibility to its trainees and junior lawyers. We are pushed to develop our skills and experience, encouraged to go beyond our comfort zone. As a trainee, this gives me lots of confidence. While I still regularly feel out of my depth, I am confident that I am becoming a better lawyer. The increasing levels of responsibility are pushing me to improve, and step forwards to becoming a competent solicitor.