The purpose of this article is not to help new trainees avoid the usual mistakes of the first week. You will make the same mistakes. Hopefully this article will mean that you don’t lose any sleep over them.
Up until last week I thought I completely understood everyday tasks. I had opened doors, sent letters, listened to my voicemails and checked the time before – often brilliantly. Law firms can complicate things. After completing my first week as a trainee solicitor, I came home on Friday opening the fridge, flushing the toilet and turning on the television a bit more tentatively than usual.
I had turned up at the office at 8.50am on Monday in my new Next suit – sadly ending my longstanding but unspoken sponsorship deal with Tesco’s F+F. I was warmly welcomed and given a tour of the whole building. Everyone was friendly and genuinely interested in me – which you would expect from a good Yorkshire firm. The big points to look out for here are obvious. You need to know the location of your office, your supervisor’s office, the kitchen, the toilets and the entrance/exit. Whilst I am now confident that I can reach each of these safety points, I am still at the stage of taking unnecessarily long routes to get there. Think Johnny English getting lost walking down the same corridors.
After the inductions I was also given my first pieces of work. This included legal research tasks and file organisation – not to be sniffed at when the file is 105 documents long. I appreciated this sort of work as it followed on nicely from the LPC. The key question to ask here is when the person who has given you the work wants it completed by. This will help you to prioritise the tasks in your day.
Following work on Tuesday I attended a networking event in the city centre. Any law student worth his name badge knows how these events work. Drinks are free with vouchers but you are morally obliged to speak to at least 3 strangers – this does not include the bar staff. The process was made more fun than usual through meeting the trainee in the year above me. I cannot stress enough how useful building a good relationship with someone who has experienced what you are about to face can be. The trainee was approachable, funny and could tell the embarrassing stories that nobody else at the firm could. A few glasses of wine do help this process. It means that whenever I do encounter an issue at work I have someone to turn to – assuming I can work the phone without calling Reception instead.
The week continued with more training. Every firm is obliged to give this training on areas like equality, money laundering and health and safety – so don’t see it as an attack on your character.
Towards the end of the week the work started to become more serious. I was writing articles and meeting clients. All the work experience and degree work that you’ve done should stand you in good stead here. One of the most interesting meetings involved taking witness statements for a future employment tribunal case.
It was not all fun and games however. Sending out your first letter is one of the rites of passage for a trainee solicitor. To complicate matters, you are likely to be working on a well-advanced file which you do not (fully) understand. You will need to ask questions, so do not be afraid to do so. The usual big hurdles include getting the content right and getting the letter printed in the correct format using the computer system. There should be people in the office that can help you with this and they will probably want to get to know you anyway. It really is a case of trial and error. To make my mark I managed to create a new hurdle, which was almost sending the letter to the wrong person. Like I said, your firm’s computer system will take some getting used to.
Pleased to have made it to the end of Friday without breaking anything, I arranged to meet some friends in town who have also just started training contracts. Everyone had encountered the same issues. Everyone had made some silly mistakes. One friend who would wish to remain nameless (Chloe), failed to check her spelling on a request for her firm’s business cards. She now has 50 cards referring to someone called ‘Chole.’
What I found really reassuring was from speaking to people who are further on in their training contracts about how you personally will improve rapidly. I’m certainly not there yet, but believe that I will soon start to make a really positive contribution to a great firm.