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The Trainee solicitor Mini-Manifesto in 1000 words

I haven’t timed the reading of this blog post, but it is exactly 1000 words.

For me a Manifesto is more than a public declaration of policy. It is a call to action. Perhaps more like a treatise with some big fat bullet points (as much as Seth Godin despises them).

In crafting this Mini-Manifesto, I would like to reach out to as many Trainee solicitors as possible and not just speak from the gut, but provide an insight into the dominant themes for firms over the next 3-5 years so that as well as putting down a marker, it also informs where Trainees need to focus their (maximum) efforts to stand the best possible chance of securing a job.

The dichotomy of the profession right now is this: on the one hand there are boundless opportunities in a liberalised market but many firms are ill-equipped or prepared to secure a stake. By and large they are playing catch up and simply don’t understand how the landscape is likely to change. The challenge for all lawyers, not just Trainees, is to ditch the anchors of mediocrity and set free the strands of celestial opportunity (poetic I know). If firms fail to let go, and face down their fears, then I forecast a slow and painful eradication of many long-established firms. Even if that is overstating the case, firms will come under increasing pressure to merge, slim down or off load unprofitable parts of their practice.

Enough of the diatribe.

Here are my insights:

#1 – Be Yourself. Yes you have to know when to play a game, but not so often that the mask eventually slips or people can’t work out what you stand for.

#2 – Don’t think you are better than anyone else.

#3 – Show respect.

#4 – Work smart and not just hard. Think of the value you are providing and not just the billable hour. Here is a link to Jay Shepherd‘s site which will help.

#5 – You may feel sometimes that you are like an animal in a zoo but all show and no delivery won’t impress.

#6 – Know when to stick and when to fold. Some battles are not worth fighting.

#7 – Don’t think of your Trainee-ship as a battle of the strongest, fittest or the person who can do more hours than anyone else. You are there to learn and grow as a person. You won’t do yourself much good if you are burnt out by the time you get to 1 year PQE.

#8 – Show initiative but don’t be over confident. It is a fine line. Speak to others who you trust to get the inside line on what is expected from each of your training principals. Don’t learn the hard way.

#9 – Volunteer wisely, not indiscriminately. If you are asked to do something then you may not have time to stop and think but, where you do, make sure it alligns with your interests, passion and belief systems. If you are struggling with this idea then think outside the box and go do something that will reflect well on you and the firm, but also floats your boat. It could be organising a charity day, pro bono event or putting yourself out for others.

#10 – You will need to keep a log of your training. It will be important to review this regularly if only to remind yourself how far you have come.

#11 – Keep an eye to the future. Of course you want to be the most brilliant legal expert, but just remember that most clients expect you to know your *stuff* but they need to understand who you are – more of the character dynamic. That is something that lawyers find hard to grasp. In the brave new world, you need to make sure that soft skills are higher up the agenda. If you feel you are being ignored then look externally for exposure.

#12 – Trust your instincts. You won’t be far away from the truth.

#13 – A lot of principals forget where they have come from. Yes, you will have to accept a master/servant relationship but don’t suck up just to get noticed. Revisit #1 above. Don’t immediately run off and make a complaint if things get really dirty but don’t be afraid to speak up.

#14 – If you mess up then learn from your mistakes. My experience of looking after a number of trainees is they rarely goofed up in a way that couldn’t be fixed but the problem was that they had been afraid to speak up from the beginning. For goodness sake know when to admit you don’t know the answer or what you are being asked to do.

#15 – Know when to shut up. I had a trainee who was exceptionally gifted but his mouth got him into trouble on more than one occasion.

#16 – Understand the jobs that your principal doesn’t like and volunteer before s/he asks you to do them.

#17 – Make sure you make friends with reception. Don’t run off with the umbrella – they get quite personal about these things.

#18 – If you don’t know your way round all the Microsoft suite of products and can’t research or look for up to date materials, then start panicking. Seriously, if you can’t put together an Excel spreadsheet then you are up against it.

#19 – Make sure you have some good stories. Life’s experience counts for a lot. Some Trainees struggled to hold a conversation because outside their narrow compass of interests they had nothing to talk about.

#20 – Finally, make sure you know who the Managing Partner is or whoever it is who is in charge. It’s too late at the Christmas party.

… [T]hat reminds me – the Christmas party. Remember you are not back at University. Letting your hair down is one thing. Being sick and falling into the arms of the partners is something else.

It would be great to get some feedback on my Mini-Manifesto. In particular what do Trainees feel is the most challenging part of their role? Don’t be afraid to post a comment, Tweet something or post a comment to my Facebook page.

~ JS ~