It’s like a whole new world. Thirty degree heat in October, a new ‘outcomes focused’ code of conduct, the introduction of alternative business structures and a Saturday night without Simon Cowell. Thank goodness Bruce is still on the Beeb to keep us all grounded and remind us that it’s autumn in England. It’s also a time of change in the office as new trainees arrive, others move seats and, sadly, some are lost to ‘new opportunities’.
It’s difficult to think back to how life was like when I put on a new suit, new shirt and tie and filled my satchel with a packed lunch to head off to the office for the first time. I was fortunate that I knew many of my colleagues already, having spent the previous summer working at the photocopier and handing around the internal mail. But for trainees now there may have been a fortnight of vacation placement two or even three years ago and a very different set of faces.
It’s also difficult to remember what life was like when I didn’t know what I was doing (some people may dispute that I know what I am doing now, but at least I get away with charging for it). In many firms a significant proportion of trainees have not come, as I did, from a traditional route to the job. Although jurisprudence and constitutional law is not to everyone’s taste, an academic law degree did give me an insight into each area of the law and a good foundation from which to build my knowledge in the areas that interested me.
Although the one-year conversion course ticks all the necessary boxes, there is no time for the students to properly understand each area or get to know or like one over another. I’m told it’s a difficult course and I have little doubt that it is, but it seems to me that is a test of speed learning, not understanding. It could be considered a good thing. When I was on the Junior Lawyers Executive Committee, and before the recession hit, we were committed to raising awareness among law firms about the dangers of early specialisation in a particular area. Sadly, the property crash saw many junior lawyers who had been tempted into a life of conveying real estate by big cash salaries and bonus schemes were unceremoniously dumped by their firms. Without a good foundation in other areas, the skills and experience gained made it difficult to transfer across to another specialism. Sadly, this problem still exists, but those who have training contracts at the moment are really the lucky ones.
A flying start
So, when the new trainees arrive, fresh-faced, wide-eyed and ready to learn, it is important to remember that the training they receive from their supervisors, partners and peers will set them up for their future careers. It is easy, especially when busy, to defer the photocopying and tea making to them. I have no problem doing that and remind them that it wasn’t that long ago that trainee solicitors had to pay for the privilege of cleaning the senior partner’s boots and driving them home from the pub on a Friday afternoon. But it is fundamental to good training to provide an education, variety and opportunity. Of course this might take some extra effort. Yes, you could have done it yourself in the time taken to check it, but the lesson is worth much more than that.
I was fortunate to have had an excellent experience in my training contract. I was given the opportunity to manage my own caseload, make mistakes but also learn from them. It goes without saying that I was supervised (probably more closely than I thought necessary at the time), but everything worked towards making me the best, most-rounded (I don’t just mean by consuming the daily selection of cakes) newly qualified solicitor I could be. When my two years were up, the bright lights of Leeds took me away from the firm where I trained, but I thank them for the commitment that they showed me. It has made me the solicitor I am today and for that I am grateful.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 10 October 2011, and is reproduced by kind permission