What makes a good trainee solicitor?

We speak to the graduate recruitment partner at leading international law firm Ashurst and ask him about the skills graduates need to succeed

You may be wondering whether commercial law is the right career choice for you. Often, the first thing to determine is whether the profession is a good match for your personality and skill set.

We asked Hammad Akhtar, graduate recruitment partner at leading international law firm Ashurst, for his opinion on the skills all potential lawyers should have in their locker.

An analytical mind

“Evidence of strong analytical skills is one of the first things we look for in potential trainees.

“A lot of the advisory work that we do for clients requires a capacity to break down a problem into its smaller, component parts. This means being able to look at a situation and quickly identify the most important elements that need addressing. 

“One recent case involved me leading a team that included an associate and a trainee. Following the initial brief with the client the trainee was tasked with undertaking the research required to gain a better understanding of the issue at hand.

“The trainee's research clarified the most important elements of the case that warranted our attention, so in effect our whole approach to the issue was initiated by the trainee and ended up shaping the advice that we delivered to the client.

“While many trainees have had the opportunity to develop their analytical skills at school or university, we help them to develop such skills through a combination of formal training and on-the-job experience.”


Ashurst are currently recruiting for training contracts, find out more and apply on their graduate site.


Good interpersonal skills

“Interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate well are important for a number of reasons. First, it’s worth remembering that the practice of commercial law is a client-facing service business. Lawyers at all levels need to be excellent at communicating both verbally and in writing with people from a wide range of backgrounds and industries.

“From day one, trainees should look to develop good relationships with their clients. On a recent project my trainee the first point of contact on a key transaction workstream. She dealt with it fantastically. She fronted all of contact with our client on this particular workstream.

“Second, like other commercial law firms, we tend to approach client work in teams. Like other members of our teams, trainees must be able to work well with individuals across different offices and practices over a sustained period.

“While most trainees who join us are already very good when speaking to people in one-on-one situations, we can usually help them to further improve their communication and interpersonal skills. For example, we provide skills based training on  giving presentations and communicating in groups.”

Commercial instinct

“When presented with a new case or transaction, it’s not just a question of grasping the legal issues at the heart of the matter. It is also important to understand how to apply the law to the client’s particular industry or business.

“ I often ask trainees to look beyond the black and white of the situation and to come up with a solution specifically to fit the context.

“The university leavers who join us need to have a certain degree of commercial instinct or nous. This comes more naturally to some than others. We help trainees to develop their commercial understanding over the course of their training contract.

“One way of doing this is to provide them with exposure to as many different industries as possible. At Ashurst we feel it’s important for trainees and junior lawyers not to become too specialised in a particular field or sector at the start of their career. We try to ensure that they qualify and build experience as well-rounded lawyers before they specialise.”

Motivation and drive

“It goes without saying that all trainee lawyers need to be enthusiastic and passionate about the work they do.

“Law, particularly when practiced at a City firm like ours, can be an extremely rewarding career path but also a challenging one. You are in working in a demanding, top-performing client-service environment where the demands placed on you vary day-to-day.

“To thrive in this environment requires being extremely self-motivated and willing to go that extra mile when the situation demands it.

“Without exception, all the trainees that I have worked with in the recent past have had this hunger and determination. They tend to be extremely aware of their responsibilities and very driven. We often find that we have to encourage our trainees to call it a day and go home. Their enthusiasm and keenness can be all consuming and so some of them would keep working late into the evening if you’d let them.

“Again, either you’re born with these qualities or you aren’t. If you’re thinking about a career in commercial law it’s important to ask yourself of whether this is the kind of life you could see yourself leading.”

What next?

“Make no mistake: nobody is the finished article by the time they qualify, and you will continue learning and honing your skills over the course of your career.

“You will also need to add new strings to your bow, as the level of responsibility that lawyers take on tends to increase steadily after qualification. As a fully-fledged lawyer the buck really does stop with you and the expectations placed on you will only continue to grow as you become more senior.

“Once more, it comes down to having the right kind of personality and mindset to cope with these demands. If you can combine resilience and strength of character with a genuine interest in commercial law, you should certainly be on track for an exciting and extremely rewarding career.”


Ashurst are currently recruiting for training contracts, find out more and apply on their graduate site.

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