Law firm spy: starting my training contract | Law on The Gateway

Law firm spy: starting my training contract

An anonymous lawyer's insider account of how they found starting their training contract

A newly-qualified associate at a City law firm (who asked to remain anonymous) gives a no-holds-barred account of their experience of starting their training contract.

"In some ways, my training contract started a long time before I set foot in the office.

I decided what firm to join before I even started at law school, and us future trainees then got invited to all the firm's Christmas and summer parties, and sometimes even to events put on just for us.

These occasions are a chance to start establishing (or to totally destroy) your credibility as a lawyer and a colleague, but most of us probably (mistakenly) saw these occasions at the time as just free fun-ish nights out."

Fresh faces

"So it's probably fair to say that the day I turned up at an unfamiliar City skyscraper, in my new suit and clutching a new bag, was the day that everything really began for me.

Thanks to having attended firm parties, I already knew a few of my fellow new joiners. As we'd all taken six months out after law school, there were quite a few sunburned faces in the room, and I think it's fair to say that not many of us had opened our legal textbooks over the past few months, so we were all slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead.

Our first week wasn't too intimidating, however, consisting entirely of training - on everything you can think of, and probably a lot of things you wouldn't.

There were talks from each of the firm's departments and a question and answer session with current trainees, but also talks on "your relationship with your secretary" and how to use the firm's telephones (both more complicated than you might think).

Then it was time to join our new departments, where the real work would start."

Settling in

"None of us had any choice over where we were going for our first seat. We'd simply been allocated randomly to whatever was left over after the fourth, third and second seat trainees had taken their pick in turn.

As we were all to discover very soon, law firms are very tall and intricately structured piles, and first seat trainees are right at the bottom.

Secretaries enjoyed a considerably higher status than us - on my first day at my desk, mine showed me where the printers, stationary cupboard and photocopier were, and made it fairly clear that she expected me not to bother her too much.

I spent a few days pottering around, finishing off a research exercise we'd been given, but was soon buried under a landslide of work.

You're told in advance, by people inside and outside of your firm, that your work will be challenging and that your hours will be long but you don't really know what that means, and don't really believe it, until it happens.

On the minus side, it meant saying goodbye to my weekday evenings, and sometimes weekends, and to the control I was used to having from my university and law school days over what I worked on and when.

Being so junior and so new to everything, first seat trainees are particularly likely to be yanked from task to task, and from deal to deal, with little say over any of it or sense of the big picture.

On the plus side, however, everything I'd spent two years looking at in theory had finally become real and it actually mattered if I got things right.

Then there was the thrill of working on deals that were genuinely top-secret - code names, locked data rooms, and putting down the phone to journalists became regular parts of my working life."

Finding friends

"I did have allies as I navigated the challenges of my first seat. I soon realised that my intake was a ready-made support group and underground spy network that stretched right across the firm.

Few of my more senior colleagues had such an advantage - most of them were imports from elsewhere rather than home-grown, so didn't know many people outside our department.

More senior trainees and newly-qualified lawyers (NQs) are often your friends in the wilderness as a law firm trainee.

They're experienced enough to be able to help you when you've been given a task you don't understand at all, but junior enough to remember being in your position.

Plus, they have an ulterior motive in keeping you on side - they're just about senior enough to be allowed to delegate work to you, but can only do so effectively if you're willing to co-operate, which you'd be wise to do in return for the safety net they can provide.

Your supervisor is also a potential asset - they're almost guaranteed to be an excellent lawyer and are also likely to be, as my first supervisor was, a fair-minded and pleasant individual, determined to help you learn by giving you good quality and challenging work, and guidance when you need it.

On the other hand, it's possible that they may not be prepared to delegate anything interesting to you, will see you as their personal assistant, or won't have time or inclination to give you any training at all.

Over time, I started to understand the personalities of the various lawyers I worked with, the complexities of the projects I was working on and how my tasks fitted in, and also how to work around the frequent bouts of long hours by making the most of the slower times.

Things were finally going well - and then, before I knew it, it was time for my second seat - and to repeat the whole process again."

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