If only I’d known that before

The day has arrived. Your TM Lewin shirt is starched and pressed, your Oyster card is topped up from the trial run to the office you did last night and your mum has called to wish you luck.

This is the highly serious and deeply sophisticated blog of Beau de jure a trainee solicitor at a top 15 City law firm.

Some things I wish I’d known…

The day has arrived. Your TM Lewin shirt is starched and pressed, your Oyster card is topped up from the trial run to the office you did last night and your mum has called to wish you luck. The applications and interviews for the job seem like a thing of the distant past, and now you’re on your own and it is happening. And as you walk to the Tube, you think about the trainees who have gone before you and wish you had access to their sage advice – do secretaries really wield all that power? What if I’m asked to do something I have no idea how to do? What if nobody likes me? I wish I could learn from the tragic mistakes of others so I can shine as the legal genius I really am…!

I also had these same thoughts, and so did 95 per cent of others on that first morning, so here are four things to know when just starting out – gleaned either through bitter personal experience or catty comments overheard in the canteen. It may sound cynical, but it’s best that you read this here rather than figuring it out after you’ve had a less-than-ideal appraisal.

Image

This is law. You – and by you, I generally mean associates and partners – are selling an image to clients, an image which projects confidence and wisdom; an image which usually does not come complete with piercings, dodgy hair, inappropriately low tops or short skirts (ladies) or brown shoes (gents). The rule is to fit in – by all means, look hot if Mother Nature has blessed you – but people will talk if you try and make a statement early on with your appearance.

As a practical point, the above applies especially for your first day – you will have your photograph taken by HR and this will be loaded onto your firm’s telephone directory. Everyone will see this when they look up your extension number, so smile! My shot was dreadful, and still is.

Reputation

Cultures vary from firm to firm, but City firms are all generally similar – mini dictatorial microcosms where partners are at the top of the food chain and you are not. Reputation is the currency and, when you join, you will have a clean slate. Enjoy that moment, because it will change very, very quickly.

To maintain a good reputation, the golden rules are not to whinge if you are given boring work before you are trusted to handle the bigger stuff, to be eager, but not irritatingly so, and to take responsibility for your own work – you are a professional now. Also noteworthy is the rule not to get fruity with anyone on firm premises. I know someone who couldn’t resist a certain member of the client catering staff, and let’s just say that when that meeting-room door closed, no documents were being signed. Classy.

Expectations

Recruitment literature is only partially true. Though they would have you believe otherwise, not everyone at your firm will be ‘friendly’, ‘so approachable’ or ‘nice’, and the ‘open-door policy’ your firm preaches on about will probably not apply to several partners and senior associates. Some of them will be really lovely, but some of them will strike the fear of God into you. Accept this now.

Competence

You are highly unlikely to be trotting out the rule in Hadley v Baxendaleand will likely never look at the Factortame decision ever again, which may be to your delight or dismay. In my own experience at a commercial law firm, trainees seem to spend between 5 and 10 per cent of their time researching black-letter law and writing notes and memos, while the rest is devoted to case and transaction management and administrative tasks. And unfortunately, a degree won’t help you with the latter; the focus is much more on your soft skills – communication in writing and orally, time-management and your ability to deal with people. So write clearly and concisely, keep people informed of what you’re doing and do things on time. And as you grow more confident, you will also learn that some associates (and even partners) are not great at giving you instructions, and that this is more to do with their incompetence than yours – see future posts on this annoyance.

Beau’s final thought…

At its core, being a good trainee is just about getting the balance right between using common sense, your soft skills and the skills you developed during your degree. And also don’t forget that every single lawyer you’ll work with, no matter how senior, was in your position at some stage and they’ll all have made mistakes – some of them big and ugly. That being said, just try not to do as I did in my first year and almost accidentally disclose privileged material to the other side on a high-profile dispute…

Good luck!

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