The Trainee Solicitors Toolkit

You start your first day brimming with enthusiasm.

You have just spent the last 4 years (or more) understanding the intricacies of law.

It is likely that you will have some knowledge of the workings of private practice, and you are nervous in anticipation of the career that awaits you.

But in reality you haven’t even got a starter kit. In many ways you are coming to work with an empty bag.

I had the tremendous privilege to train innumerable trainees. I had the only commercial litigation seat, and it was always popular. In most cases, I had second year trainees but on one occasion I did have a first year start with me.

My style of management was hands on. No trainee of mine was going to end up doing crap jobs, and making up the numbers. I always made it clear from the outset that I wanted them to come out the other end a better lawyer than when they went in. I wanted all my trainees to experience as much of a case as possible, and in many cases trainees were allowed, under supervision, to run cases.

But what of the toolkit? Many trainees came ill prepared for my seat. Their previous principal had spent no time with them. They had not been allowed to see any clients. And generally they were commercially naive. As a result many lacked confidence.

If you need to have a template to work on then here is my short list of issues to consider:

  1. Develop your listening skills. This is not just the active listening promoted by many. This is the type where you also listen to yourself. You need to make sure that you understand your weaknesses and fears and work out a way of speaking up when you are asked to do something that you don’t feel comfortable with;
  2. Treat every job of equal importance;
  3. Don’t suck up all the time. I used to hate it when someone spoke in firm speak. That is not to say that you want to belittle or complain about things but for heaven’s sake have an opinion of your own;
  4. You are often told about learning the art of saying no. It may seem counter-intuitive but you have to learn how to say yes. The sort of yes that is emotional, engaging and I know that the job is going to get done properly because you are motivated to do it;
  5. Treat everyone with respect. Don’t get above your station. You are no better than anyone, especially the secretaries;
  6. Dress to impress. Seriously. Don’t pitch up on day one in your Sunday best only to let things slip after a week. Take pride in how you look;
  7. If you must get drunk, try not to do in front of too many partners. You may think you are being social or one of the team, but you will regret things later on;
  8. You are told that billing is not important but trust me it is very important. Get used to the fact that you are working in a hyper-competitive environment;
  9. Don’t talk behind anyone’s back. Part of building the trust of your peers is being reliable. If they think you are going to bitch about someone else, then it is likely they think you will do the same about them;
  10. Get involved in activities outside of work that reflect well on the firm;
  11. Don’t be a smart arse. Nothing annoys your peers more than if you make them look stupid because you know the law, and they don’t. By all means demonstrate your brilliance in a brief or document but don’t do things openly that makes others look stupid;
  12. Don’t take criticism personally no matter how unwarranted you think it is. You won’t get better if you don’t get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses;
  13. If you commit to doing something on a date, don’t mess up and deliver it late. You may think that your principal has forgotten but they haven’t;
  14. If you don’t understand something then ask for clarification. But don’t do this repeatedly as otherwise you will do yourself a great disservice; and
  15. Be happy, enthusiastic and good natured. No wants to work with someone where they never know what they are going to get from one day to the next.

The best firms will want you to achieve, but some firms still don’t understand the role of a trainee. If you end up being a cheap hired hand then you need to make the very best of the situation. Take as much as you can out of the training contract. Pick all the brains you can; ask millions of questions; expose yourself to as many different facets of your seat as you can. Don’t rest on your laurels. It is easy to become despondent when no one seems to care. But you will find the two years flies past at the speed of light and you need to come out the other side with something to offer more than the usual label that comes with a solicitor of that department.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

2 responses to “The Trainee Solicitors Toolkit”

  1. Great article. I would add #16 start branding and marketing yourself.

  2. Great article. I would add #16 start branding and marketing yourself.

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