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safety nets

19 October 2018

This month’s trainee blog will be slightly different from previous ones, because your author is a newly qualified solicitor (NQ) and no longer a trainee.

In keeping with this anomalous theme, the blog will cover two topics rather than one. Firstly, I will recount my experience of a secondment I undertook as a trainee, looking at what lessons can be drawn from my experience that might help you the reader in your future career. Secondly, I will briefly recount some of my experiences transitioning from a trainee to an NQ so that you the reader might be better prepared when you reach qualification.

While secondments are common among NQs at Browne Jacobson, they are, in my experience, relatively rare for trainees. So, when early in my 3rd seat a partner in our Regulatory team appeared at my desk late on a Thursday evening and asked if I would go on secondment to a client on the next Monday, it came as a bit of a surprise. I had no knowledge of the client and was stepping into the shoes of a several years qualified solicitor who could no longer take up the secondment due to serious injury from a bike accident. I said yes (of course). A few days later I found myself at the client’s offices making a note of what the client wanted from me during my time with them. The secondment lasted for 2 months and, happily, went very well.

The secondment and the project I had to complete as part of it were daunting prospects; the nature of a secondment means that the support network one is dependent on, particularly as a trainee, are mostly taken away. For me, it was a key point in my training contract and my career to date. I learnt that I could operate without the safety nets that I previously relied on. I learnt that I was able to sit in meetings alone with senior members of the client team and hold my own. And perhaps most importantly, the secondment reinforced to me the importance of remaining calm under pressure when support isn’t immediately available. These are all things that any 3rd seat trainee should be able to do, but often it takes the removal of the safety net to realise that you can. If you are offered a secondment, grab the opportunity with both hands.

Perhaps the biggest removal of a safety net that trainee solicitors might perceive is upon qualification. Overnight, you will go from being a trainee to an NQ. Overnight, what’s expected of you seems to shift significantly, whereas your development has in reality only progressed by a day. I’m a month into life as NQ and there’s no doubt it’s been tough; grappling with the increased chargeable target, working to meet increased expectation and taking more ownership of work. If you qualify into an area that was not the last seat of your training contract (and, as often seems to be the case, you have spent 2 or 3 weeks sunning yourself somewhere exotic between the end of your training contract and qualification), these factors are mixed with the palpable feeling of starting all over again. But- despite what you might think- the safety net is still there. Your colleagues have gone through the same experience and they understand the difficulties. While you should always be trying to ‘up your game’, don’t expect it to happen overnight and don’t be afraid to keep asking for help.