Top Tips for Starting your Training Contract

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Top Tips for Starting your Training Contract

My name is Ben and I’m a second-year trainee at JMW Solicitors LLP. I currently work in the Private Client Department in the Manchester office. These are my top-tips for starting your training contract.

Ask lots of Questions

Coming into a new firm or new department as a trainee can be an incredibly daunting experience. You don’t know anybody, and you are still finding your feet with how things work, and it feels like everyone else has worked together for years and knows exactly what they are doing.

It can therefore be easy to keep quiet and blend into the background. Avoid this. If you don’t understand something, ask someone in the team. Try speaking to another trainee or newly qualified solicitor in the department first. If they can’t help, speak to someone more senior.

It’s easy to feel like you are annoying someone by asking questions, but I’d say that 99% of the time, this will not be the case. Your supervisor understands that this is likely to be a completely new area of law for you. They will be expecting you to ask questions and will be ready to explain technical concepts to you. If your query relates to the administrative side of things (how the file management system works, where the post goes, how to raise a bill etc), speak to a paralegal or admin assistant and they will almost certainly be happy to assist.

Quality over Quantity

As a trainee, you will often be faced with multiple competing deadlines and time sensitive pieces of work. It can be easy to slip into a mindset of trying to get everything done as fast as you possibly can.

Whilst efficiency and time management are important skills, you should never sacrifice quality of work for speed. Your supervisor would much rather receive a piece of work that has been done correctly than one that is done quickly but requires re-doing.

You should take the time to properly read and understand the instructions you have been set. Use all available resources such as precedents, online libraries, and textbooks. Be sure to spell check and proofread your work. Nothing leaves a bad impression like sending a piece of work to a supervisor (or client) that is full of spelling errors and poor grammar.

Similarly, ensure that you record time accurately. If it took you two hours to complete a task, record two hours! It is expected that trainees will take longer to complete certain tasks than senior solicitors, and this discrepancy is built into the fee quotes given to clients.

Get Involved

Don’t underestimate the value of networking, social events and volunteering.

A key part of being a trainee solicitor is building your network and establishing a reputation for yourself. I’d encourage any trainee to get involved in as many networking and business development events as possible.

Building a network of professional contacts isn’t an overnight process, and so attending a couple of networking events won’t necessarily mean that new work will immediately come flooding your way. However, you may well exchange contact details with someone at a networking event and find that they get in touch a few months down the line with a legal query or potential referral.

When you attend these events, be sure to speak to people you haven’t met before. It can be easy to pick out the familiar faces in the crowd and stick with them, but this will not help you to grow your network.

The same logic applies for internal social events. I have taken part in various sports and charity initiatives within JMW during my training contract. These have been a great way to meet other people at the firm. You never know when you’ll need a favour or an answer to a quick query from somebody in another department, so having that internal network of contacts can be really helpful.

Other practical tips

  • Always have a notepad and pen handy – lots of instructions will be given to you verbally and this will often involve important details and complex information. You may not actually start this task until a few days after the initial conversation, so don’t rely on your memory to get everything right.
  • Try and give accurate timescales for completion of work to supervisors or clients – If it becomes clear that you aren’t going to meet the deadline initially agreed, a quick email update goes a long way.
  • Dress smartly (or keep a smart outfit at the office) – Since Covid, many firms have operated a dress down or ‘dress for your day’ policy. This is fine, but you never know as a trainee when you are going to be required to attend a court hearing/client meeting/social event at the last minute, and so you should always be prepared to wear business attire.
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