Top Tips for Starting your Training Contract and What I Learnt from my First Year as a Trainee

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Top Tips for Starting your Training Contract and What I Learnt from my First Year as a Trainee

I started my Training Contract in the Manchester office in September 2022, having joined JMW as a paralegal in July 2021. My first seat was in Business Crime and Regulation, my second in Court of Protection and my third and current seat is in the Family department.

Whilst I benefitted from being in the firm before starting my training contract, my first year as a trainee was full of learning and progression. The jump from paralegal to trainee can be quite significant, particularly where you move to an area that you have not done before, but you must remind yourself that no one is expecting you to come in on your first day (or first few months!) of any seat, knowing the answers to every question.

Initiative and willingness to assist

As a trainee, my top tip is to use your initiative. It sounds obvious but try to constantly consider why you are doing a task, how the task will progress matters on the case and what next steps can arise from the case. I would recommend proposing what you think the next steps are when feeding back to whoever has set you the task, so they can be clear that you are thinking about how to progress matters. In this way, they can also steer you in the right direction if you have not quite approached it in the same way they would and you can learn and apply this in the future.

In addition, show a willingness to learn and be involved. Whilst it may seem daunting, you will be given better quality work and get a better feel for each area of law if you indicate that you are keen to assist on a number of different matters and don’t be scared to ask questions.

Supervisors can sometimes set you work without a lot of information as to how to approach the task. It is good practice to strike a balance between asking for further information from whoever has set you the task, if you feel that you do not have enough information to complete the task, and using your initiative and checking the file for the required information and anywhere else where the information may be stored. I would always check the file and other locations in the first instance, and then if you cannot find what you need in a reasonable timeframe, speak to your supervisor or whoever set the task.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Life as a trainee can be quite overwhelming. You are constantly learning, making mistakes, working for different people with different styles and keeping track of where everything is up to. Whilst we are all keen to impress, being too hard on yourself can be really detrimental to the learning process and adds unnecessary stress into your life.

A good way to keep track of your progress is regularly keeping your trainee log up to date so that you can reflect on the tasks that you have completed and all the positive feedback you will have received. Don’t lose sight of the progress you have made in such a short period of time.

Take control of your learning

The training contract is a two-way process. Whilst it may feel as though you are there to help others, you are also there to learn and progress in your own career. Make sure to keep an open line of communication with your supervisors and colleagues to be able to manage your workload and progress as much as possible. Different supervisors work differently and it is important to meet each other in the middle. Talk to your supervisors about how you learn best and how you prefer to receive supervision and feedback and try to work out a way that works for you both. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Talk to others

As a trainee, you are given a supervisor, a buddy (usually a trainee in the previous trainee cohort) and have access to other mentors throughout your period of learning. It is really helpful to discuss experiences with different trainees, to learn about what each department do, what the work is like and to explore which departments you may be interested in trying next. It is also a great network for swapping tips and asking those questions that feel “silly” to ask to your supervisors or other colleagues.

If there are newly qualified solicitors in your team, these are great people to learn from and the likelihood is they will have done a lot of the tasks you are being set, so don’t be afraid of asking them how to approach each task if you are unsure.

Quick tips

  1. Be organised: whether you prefer the task list in proclaim, outlook or a spreadsheet of cases, be clear on what tasks you are working on, the relevant deadlines and which tasks need to be prioritised.
  2. Go to meetings/ court hearings well prepared. Read up on the file, the live issues, the client and any questions you are likely to be asked in meetings or court hearings.
  3. Get to know as many people across the firm and trainee network as you can.
  4. Don’t be afraid to get involved.
  5. Keep a pair of court shoes and a blazer at your desk, so you are prepared to attend court at the last minute if required.
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