It is coming up to a year since I qualified as a solicitor and finished my training contract with Woodfines. I can recall the excitement of a being a prospective trainee about to start my training contract, and I can also relate all too well to the sense of relief, joy and slight anxiety Alice, Chris and Nick will be feeling, as they are about to finish their training contracts after two years and enter the world of newly qualified solicitors. So I thought it might be useful to give an insight into how things have changed for me and what life is like one year on.
My first few weeks post-qualification were about re-familiarising myself with the Crime and Regulatory department as it had been 18 months since I had last worked there (it was my first seat of my training contract). Ordinarily, you would qualify into the department where you spend your fourth and final seat but my route to qualification was slightly different because I had completed 18 months of contentious litigious work and needed to spend 6 months in a non-contentious department.
It wasn’t long until I was given my first solo Magistrates’ Court case and things really haven’t stopped since. I have gained exposure to a great deal of matters, including regulatory, licensing, health and safety, and transport, as well as our criminal defence work. I am also undertaking my police station accreditation which is extremely beneficial to my day to day work in the Magistrates’ Court. I have to admit the first time I was sent to Court was quite daunting as it seemed that all the solicitors knew each other and knew the court staff. It took a little while to learn the ropes at Court and to work out who not to upset (or risk finding yourself waiting to be the last case called on!) However, this passed very quickly and it is much more familiar now.
During my first year, I have had highs and lows, successes and disappointments but I feel as if I have given every client the best of my ability. There have been a few sleepless nights and long days but it feels amazing to make a difference to a client’s life.
So what advice do I have for Alice, Chris, Nick and other trainees soon to be newly qualified?
- Be honest with clients regarding your experience but don’t put yourself down for being newly qualified. Clients will often ask what your success rate is so don’t lie but explain that you work closely together with experienced solicitors who can provide supervision where required to ensure the highest level of attention and detail is given to the case. Make your enthusiasm a selling point and exceed expectations wherever you can.
- Be enthusiastic to new opportunities but also realistic regarding your abilities for certain tasks/cases/clients. Some cases I have dealt with were clearly requiring the seniority of a partner and I have found that it is better to identify this early, pass it to the relevant colleague and offer to support the case going forward.
- Be alert to your profitability and your Key Performance Indicators. Whilst it will not be expected that you have a client base straight away, you no longer have the excuse that you are a trainee and you will need to learn the value of your time.
- Do not feel that just because you are now “qualified” that you have to know all the answers and shouldn’t seek guidance if you are unsure of something.
Finally, do not be afraid to question whether the area you have chosen to qualify into is right for you. A training contract gives you a flavour of what it is like to work in a particular department but you may find the reality to be completely different. It will be difficult to change but do not feel like you are trapped for the remainder of your career with no way out. Fortunately for me I cannot see myself in any other area of law but this will not be the case for all newly qualified solicitors. Focus on what you want and then work as hard as you can to achieve it.
I wish all the trainees starting or ending their training contracts all the very best of luck for the future.