1. Good vibes only
Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude. Nobody expects you to be an expert straight away, but if you approach a task with enthusiasm, you will immediately make a good impression. Your supervisor is far less likely to dwell on your mistakes if you demonstrate a willingness to learn. Conversely, acting aloof is a sure-fire way to start off on the wrong foot with your colleagues.
2. Make yourself known
It can be daunting starting a new job where you don’t know anyone. Whilst it goes without saying that you need to get to know your team, try to think longer term. As a trainee, you will likely be moving departments every 6 months and you will have to get to know a different department each time. Get to know as many people as possible early on and you will save yourself time and effort in the long run. You don’t need to knock on every partner’s door to introduce yourself in your first week, but by greeting someone in the corridor or having a chat in the kitchen whilst making your morning coffee, you will quickly and effortlessly grow your network within the firm. You never know, you could be speaking to the head of the department in which you want to do your next seat.
3. IT crowd
Trust us, being able to work the internal document management and email systems will get you a long way. Don’t be afraid to spend some time playing around with the IT system to see exactly how it works and discover all the shortcuts. Once you’re technologically confident, you’ll be able to focus your attention on the actual work in hand. As for IT issues such as computers freezing and server malfunctions, unfortunately they’re part and parcel of office life!
We know you don’t want to look stupid. After all, you’re a trainee solicitor so you’re meant to be clever and able to work everything out for yourself, right? Wrong. Your colleagues will be well aware that as a first seat trainee you are going to need a bit of help to get started. They were all trainees once, remember. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, no matter how basic they may seem to you or how busy your supervisor may appear to be. And whilst this is especially important during your first few weeks, asking questions is something you can and should continue doing throughout your training contract. Lawyers never stop learning.
5. Back to the books
Maybe you lucked out and bagged your dream seat. Or maybe you’ve ended up in a seat you never envisaged doing and in which you have no interest whatsoever. First seat trainees don’t always get their first choice (don’t worry, your time will come later on). Either way, it always pays to learn about your practice area. Reading an overview of the area of law your department practises will give you a good grounding and help set the context of the tasks you may be given. Most law firms have a subscription to online resources such as Practical Law Company, LexisNexis or Westlaw – all of which are thoroughly researched and offer a comprehensive insight into different areas of law.
6. Eyes (and ears) peeled
You can learn a lot from other lawyers, so be aware of what’s going on around you. Take note of how your supervisor interacts with clients in meetings and on the phone. Similarly, pay attention to the language and writing style used by your colleagues in email correspondence and in documents. This is a good way of ensuring that your drafting comes back with fewer red marks - always a good confidence booster! A good law firm will eventually let you develop your own style.
7. Have a little respect
The chances are that your team secretary or paralegal has been working at the firm for a lot longer than you and knows the court process or due diligence procedure better than you do. Law firms, in particular larger law firms will have many support functions, from HR to marketing to IT, all of which will play an integral part in your training in one way or another. A good example is the accounts department - they will probably pay your salary, as well as facilitate payments you make to the Land Registry or Companies House on behalf of your clients. Likewise, it pays to get on with your graduate recruitment team as they will probably decide which seat you will go into next. Respect all your colleagues, no matter what their job title. Trust us when we say that you will need them on your side.
8. Party time!
This is the fun bit. Many firms will put on socials to welcome new trainees. Try to attend at least some of these events as they are a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues in a less formal context. Lawyers are people too!