How to manage your workload as a trainee

How can new trainees best manage their workload? Three experts give their advice below.


Blair Macdonald, corporate counsel, LexisNexis: You should write a list. Prioritise based on what you need to do and the time you have during the day, bearing in mind that you could always be interrupted and may have to switch off one task and on to another.

The other thing that’s important is to manage your time relationships with people. For instance, you could be asked by four different partners to do a piece of work by 5pm tomorrow.

It’s not realistic that you’re going to be able to do all of those different tasks – so you’ll have to have the awkward conversation where you have to say, ‘I’ve got an awful lot on – how urgent is this, and is this something that you guys can sort out between yourselves as to what is the best use of my time?’ Because the firm should have its input: outside of your personal workload things have a priority too.

That’s tough, but that’s management. Telling people how busy you are is important.

Sasha Pirbhai, trainee, King & Wood Mallesons: I’m a big fan of the to-do list, but as Blair says it’s not just a case of having a long list and ticking through them throughout the day – people are going to pop their head round the door and ask you to do something else and then you’ll maybe get to come back to it. Prioritising what is urgent and what can possibly wait is very important.

Also, there are support lawyers and secretaries and paralegals around you. As a first seat trainee it’s a new concept to ping over an email to a secretary and ask them to type up a letter for you but that’s what they’re there for Don’t be afraid to get to help.

Blair For a lot of people it will be their first office job but the systems are there in firms to help you do your work. They are there to be used.

Paul Gascoyne, graduate recruitment manager, Shearman & Sterling: That’s right. I think that one of the hardest things to get used to when people join a firm is managing their workload. People come into a firm and for quite a long time they’ve been in the education system where they were usually high achievers, so they are used to managing an academic workload.

Then they come into the workplace and can be given tasks left, right and centre. Learning to project manage their own workload is one of the things trainees have to get to grips with straight away.

A lot of that comes with practice,: it’s about understanding the difference between a soft deadline and a hard deadline, who’s asking you to do the work, how important it is for their clients? Those things come with exposure.

They key thing is, if you have any doubts, just bounce it off your supervisor.

Blair Macdonald, Sasha Pirbhai and Paul Gascoyne were speaking on Lawyer 2B’s webcast: ‘How to be an ideal trainee’. Watch the full webcast here.