Recently qualified solicitor, Mike Dawson, discusses the time he spent learning the ropes as a trainee lawyer.
I graduated from the University of Manchester in 2008 knowing that my prospects for employment would be relatively high, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how competitive the industry had become when I submitted applications for a training contract.
Competing with thousands of other equally or better qualified candidates, I was fortunate to secure a training contract with a top firm based in Leeds. I was aided in large part by my decision to complete a summer internship with the practice in my first year at university. If you plan on securing a training contract, my best advice is to apply for placements as soon as possible, while obviously investing a great deal of effort in your academic studies.
Despite knowing the building and some of the people who worked in the office, my first day as a trainee solicitor was terrifying. Although the LPC had taught me a lot about the practical side of law, I realised that the two-year period ahead of me would more or less decide my legal career. What if I’m not as good as the other candidates? What if I end up hating the job? What exactly was expected of me?
I arrived at the office before most of the other trainees. We were asked to be available from 9am but I saw no harm in arriving a little earlier. When the group assembled, a senior lawyer introduced us to several of his colleagues. He noted the importance of learning as much as possible on the job, that mistakes could prove costly and that employment was not guaranteed upon successful completion of the training contract. The pep talk helped to settle my nerves, if only because I realised nothing was certain: I still had to grab this opportunity with everything I had.
When the other trainees discussed their areas of expertise, I was surprised – and somewhat concerned – to discover that I was the only LLB graduate. Everyone else had diversified, studying law with linguistics, history, German or some other subject. Was I out of my depth?
Apparently not. Within moments of being introduced to each other, the group was broken up. We were assigned to different seats, where we would spend six months before switching departments. My first six-month block would be spent learning environmental law, which I had studied at university.
After several more introductions – the practice was by no means huge, but that’s not how it seemed on the first day – I was given my first task. No, I wasn’t asked to make the coffee or file paperwork; instead, I was instructed to read my e-mails and draft a response to a client.
What surprised me most at this point was how much responsibility I was afforded from the outset. Alhough the e-mail was checked before it was sent to the client, I was allowed to adopt my own approach within the boundaries that had been set for me. My responsibility within the department grew with each passing day, but it was my first 12 hours that really left an impression. I say 12 hours because I ended up staying in the office until just after 8pm – long after I was required to go home. A complex case had been submitted before lunch and I wasn’t prepared to miss out on any of it.
Read more for factual information on the legal profession.