How firms can do more to help newly qualified solicitors

With September now here many trainees are taking up positions as newly-qualified solicitors. It’s an exciting time for most trainees – finally, after years of studying and hard work they have achieved their goal.

But what’s next? Is your firm going to keep them on or cast them adrift? If they are staying does the firm have adequate resources to supervise and nurture them? In fact it is an extremely stressful time for newly-qualified solicitors. Law firms need to be aware of this and take their needs into consideration.

Ruth Fenton

Starting any new job may be daunting, but for a NQ the stakes are high. If starting at a new firm they may be unfamiliar with computer systems, policies, procedures and working culture etc. Being “qualified” they are expected to “kind of” know what they are doing but it’s a well-known fact that exposure to work as a trainee is very different depending on where you trained. Some trainees have been running their own files for months, others were lucky if they managed to step away from the photocopier.

Making sure junior employees are settled in and receiving the right level of supervision is essential. Effects of poor supervision, lack of training, unrealistic work load can lead to stress, time off and – potentially – a destroyed, otherwise brilliant, solicitor. Not to mention the firm being sued by clients for negligence or the solicitor filing a constructive dismissal claim.    

Some people have no problem asking for help, but others don’t want to look silly or they are scared of their supervisor. They may feel like they are being bullied, micro-managed or can’t do a thing right.

Here are some tips on how your firm can make a difference

  • Supervisors and managers need to have excellent people management skills and truly want to help others. They need to look out for warning signs such as days off sick, irritability and tiredness, nearly missing deadlines, shutting themselves away, crying, long hours in the office, drinking and constantly looking stressed. Junior employees often feel undervalued which compounds the problem.
  • Make sure the NQ is the right fit for the team. Small law firms in particular often expect too much of their NQ solicitors who end up doing the work of a more senior solicitor with minimal supervision.
  • Ensure regular contact where the NQ is told when they have done a great job or how they can improve it for next time. This should be handled in a positive supportive way with the supervisor accepting they might not have given the right training for the task to be completed to their standards. 
  • A mentoring and buddy programme is invaluable to new solicitors. A mentor can help them get where they want to be in their career faster. A buddy who could be a mid-level associate or legal secretary can help them find information quicker, explain firm policies etc. so they feel supported and don’t have to bother the partners all the time.
  • Morale boosters, for example getting the team together to do something fun which you know the NQ will enjoy, can be useful.  
  • Have a neutral person the NQ can turn to if they are not coping at work. Measures can then be put in place to help them and prevent them needing to take time off work with stress. This could be someone in HR or an associate solicitor representative.
  • Junior employees in particular don’t want to be seen to rock the boat for fear of losing their job. Having an anonymous suggestion box where employees can suggest how their work situation can be improved can be invaluable to the firm.
  • Remember to take into consideration personal circumstances. Junior employees may be getting married, buying a house or thinking of starting a family which means extra stress at home and work.
  • Offering coaching and flexible working patterns will really help employees to feel more settled in the work place especially if returning after time off for stress.      
  • Let everyone in the firm know about LawCare. LawCare is a charity which specifically helps Legal Professionals in need. Last year 75 per cent of the calls to the helpline related to stress, which just shows how important it is to get the right balance of work and support in the workplace. 

Newly qualified solicitors are just properly starting out in their careers. If joining a new firm we shouldn’t underestimate the stress they are under to make a good impression when perhaps they don’t yet have all the skills and knowledge of someone who trained at the firm. With the right guidance, support and correct workload newly qualified solicitors should thrive in their new environment and stay in the legal profession. 

Ruth Fenton is a solicitor, executive leadership coach and communications expert who specialises in helping junior and mid-level lawyers excel in their careers.  

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