From student to professional: time-management and team work

This article is the second in a two-part series on making the transition from student to professional. Read Part One here.

In the first article in this series, we focused on preparing your communication skills for a professional environment. This article will take a look at two other important capabilities to help the transition: time management and team-work.

Time management

Most, if not all, university students have experienced the ups and downs of the essay-writing all-nighter: the dread as you realise the deadline is alarmingly close; the elation of the final hand-in. As a student, your time is your own – deadlines come and go, and you’re free to organise yourself around them. In any event, the odd missed deadline isn’t the end of the world – the consequences are yours alone.

Eloise Skinner
Eloise Skinner

Once you take up a professional role, however, time management becomes a necessity – not just an ideal to aspire towards. This is especially true as a trainee lawyer in a transactional seat. You’ll often be working up against strict deadlines that carry real consequences for your team and, ultimately, for your client.

As a trainee, this means a lot of drafting and reviewing under intense time-pressure. In this situation, excellence is not just about producing great work – it’s about producing great work within the time available. Those with perfectionist tendencies will no doubt find this a struggle: you’ll often have to circulate your work without performing the multiple checks and reviews that your university schedule would have allowed.

Practical preparation

Think about areas in your life that you could use to practice the art of time-management. Study is an obvious one, but the same benefits can be gained from music (use concerts or exams as deadlines) and sports (in this case, you could use events, matches or races as goals to work towards). If nothing in your life has an imminent deadline, create one for yourself – you’ll be surprised at how much a little time-pressure can focus your mind.

Try out different methods of self-organisation and see what works for you. Lists, schedules and planners will become your best friends (and never underestimate the power of new stationery as a motivational tool).

Working for the team

The university experience is, at its core, centred around the individual student. Sure, you might attend group lectures – but the work you produce is your own, and the motivation behind it equally your own. At the end of the year, the grades you achieve and the significance of those grades are all yours: individual achievements.

You’ll quickly find that life as a trainee solicitor does not revolve around you (sadly enough). The trainee is often incredibly important to the team, but it’s the overall team that takes priority. Every lawyer plays a supporting role in this mission – each person acts to advance the overall success of the deal, transaction or project.

With this adjustment in reality comes an adjustment in the way you think, work and communicate. You’ll begin to think less about how to make yourself look good and more about how you can support others under intense pressure.

You’ll get used to seeing your initial draft be circulated and redrafted multiple times (you’ll also learn not to be offended when your work is covered in so many comments that it takes on a different form altogether). You’ll begin to talk less of yourself and more of “us”: a single unit, working towards a single goal.

Practical preparation

This one is all about mindset. Good activities to build a team-focused attitude include sports, charity work, music or any part-time business jobs. Take your mind off the personal element and try working towards a greater goal.

Ask for feedback at every opportunity and make sure you can actually handle it well (this requires the acknowledgement that you’re not perfect). Get into the habit of giving (constructive) criticism to your peers. See if it makes a difference to your work and attitude.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll even start to enjoy it more…