An open letter to future lawyers, from a future lawyer

Jasmine Boadi is a trainee at a top City outfit, and she has something she wants to share

I first came to understand the elusiveness of the training contract when I saw a comment on Twitter comparing a person securing one to having found Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

If you’re not familiar with the workings of the recruitment process, likening a two-year job contract to a fictional chocolate bar insert might seem ridiculous. But with the applicant to position ratio sometimes as low as 40:1 (as it was for my intake), the analogy isn’t too far off.

For those lucky enough to secure an offer, the challenge doesn’t stop there. Here are ten things I’d wish somebody had told me before I started my own training contract.

1. You will be wrong, a lot

And this will be strange at first because — as a straight-A student with an award-winning start-up on the side — chances are being wrong isn’t something you’re used to.

All of your drafting seems to come back riddled with red ink and things which sound simple enough, like filling in a stock transfer form, somehow take you half an hour instead of three minutes.

But these mistakes will happen less frequently over time. And by the end of the two years, you may even feel like you know what you’re doing. Kind of.

2. You may lose friends, even relationships, along the way…

There will be people in your life who won’t understand why you can’t always stroll out of the office at 6pm for after-work cocktails, or why when you do manage to escape the workplace after a long day, you’re not always full of scintillating conversation. They may reach the conclusion that you’re not as fun to be with anymore, and retreat from your life as a result. Let those people go. Because if they truly cared about you, they would know that now is that time that you need their support and understanding the most.

3. …but you will also make new ones

Your intake will be filled with people in exactly the same boat as you: over-caffeinated, perpetually tired and fiercely hard-working but just as interested in playing hard when time allows. Expect to find yourself in the local bar or pub with fellow team members and other trainees on many a Friday night, and in no time many of these colleagues will become your friends.

4. Regular evening and weekend plans will be a thing of the past

There’s a chance that you will soon be known as ‘the friend who can never make it’.

You must be prepared to live vicariously through the social lives of everyone you know that works from 9.30am to 5.30pm (in other words, most of the population) and look on via Snapchat or Instagram as you continue to churn out the last of your board minutes at gone 11pm, the will to live slipping slowly from your fingertips.

5. Your working life will in no way whatsoever resemble that of Harvey Specter’s or Ally McBeal’s

Nobody walks around the office exchanging cult classic movie lines, practising every possible area of the law in one day, or shouting “you got Litt up!” anywhere, ever.

Significant portions of your days as a trainee will be spent bundling court documents, drafting tables and spreadsheets and inserting party names into firm precedents. This may lead you to wonder why it is you even needed to complete three years of uni and a year of law school in the first place. But not to worry — better quality work will eventually come your way.

6. …but every now and again, you will experience some of the perks of the job

You’ll have the pleasure of being able to walk past shopping centres and commercial spaces you helped to buy or sell, read about your team’s efforts in the press (while simultaneously shaking off memories of the all-nighters you did to get the deal over the line), or walk into stores and see the brands whose trademarks you helped to register and protect. Whether you simply drafted a simple email or took notes on a conference call, remembering that your small efforts contributed to the bigger picture can put things into perspective.

And can I get an amen for all the other employee benefits that come with your new role? You’ll feel like you’ve come a long way since rejoicing over free highlighters and USB sticks distributed at law fairs.

7. At times, you will feel like a District 11 tribute from The Hunger Games

Many of the people from your intake may well become true, lifelong, let’s-travel-the-world-together, will-you-be-my-best-man? friends of yours. But once you accept your offer all the way until the last few months before qualification, those friends of yours will also be your competitors.

Securing the training contract is half the fight. You’ve got to secure an associate position on qualification, either at your current firm or elsewhere as a newly-qualified associate, too. So don’t be surprised if this causes tensions between you and the guy you’re planning a trip to South America with, but remember that even in The Hunger Games tributes made allies and fought clean (well, some of them did anyway…)

8. Patience is extremely important

When your team’s running late and everyone around you is losing it a little, it’s easy to fall into the trap of losing it a bit too. Your ability to keep your cool during the peaks of your seat will not only be crucial for your sanity, but it’ll probably get you brownie points on your end of seat appraisal.

9. You will spend much of your training contract in constant fear of messing up massively…

Did that email I just sent include all of the attachments the other side asked for? Did that research report that’s just been sent out to the client have the right answer? Should I have left my work phone on my desk during this lunch break?

Of course, it’s important to try to put your best foot forward each day, especially when your responsibilities increase, and natural that you would want to do so. But you must also accept the fact that you are a human being. And do you know something? *whispers* Human beings mess up sometimes. Now, inhale…exhale… There you go.

10. …but you will accomplish more than you could ever have imagined

Two years might sound like a long time but it will go by so quickly that it will feel like it was two months. In that short space of time you will learn so much about the law, about the industry and, most importantly, about yourself.

Perhaps by the end of your training contract you’ll decide that the law is not for you and try something new — and that’s okay. But maybe you’ll fall in love with the work of a particular team, or its team members (or a mix of both) and take the leap from trainee to associate. That’s when the hard work really begins — or so I’m told.

Jasmine Boadi is a King’s College London graduate and a trainee at a City firm.

80 Comments

Irwin Mitchell NQ

Not for me. There’s no mention of being thrown into a pit of fire if you don’t meet your billing targets for whiplash claims. Also, although it is like the hunger games, it’s more literal, as we all fight it out for the last half of the mouldy digestive management gives us everyday to avoid us dying of starvation.

(35)(3)
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Anonymous

I know some of this is tongue in cheek, but No. 2. (‘You may lose friends, even relationships, along the way’) strikes me as a bit sad that people will apparently accept this with a shrug .

(25)(0)
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Anonymous

I could not agree more. Reading this, as someone a few years down the line, was so depressing generally. But Numbers 2 and 3 in particular – basically, you’re going to become really fucking boring and lose most of your friends but don’t worry because you’ll make a few new friends who will be equally fucking boring and are only friends with you because you’re both stuck in the same never-ending hell hole as each other. TERRIFIC.

(30)(0)
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Anonymous

I actually really liked this, one of my favourite reads on legal cheek – very insightful and well written.

HOWEVER

Willy Wonka’s golden ticket had odds FAR exceeding 40:1. Get a grip Jasmine!

(37)(1)
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Real Life Calling

She has no idea about competition, try 300-400 applicates for one (that is right people just 1!) Pupillage… now that is competition!

(17)(22)
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Real Life Calling

That one dislike is from some niaeve individual who does not appreciate the competition to join the Bar compared to becoming a solicitor. Your are almost 10 times more likely to get a job if you wise to be a solicitor. Go check the sats out, they are on the main websites for the proessfions.

(4)(16)
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Anonymous

Try a 1000 to one, that’s what I have been told more than once at pupillage interviews. It is so competitive at more than one they have told me getting an interview is as achievement that most will never reach, crazy.

(3)(9)
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mc

Sorry, but this is nonsense. Pupillage is very competitive yes, but if you’re a strong candidate you should be receiving an offer at around 30/40 apps. If not, then realistically your application may not be strong enough. For example, much of the commercial bar essentially looks for an Oxbridge first and if you don’t have that (plus prizes and other achievements) it will be a tough ask. Everyone I know (albeit anecdotally) with that profile has got a lot of first round interviews (and eventually an offer).

(12)(3)
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Anonymous

Interviews do not equal pupillage xD you are so nieve. I have friends with 1st, publications and prizes and Llm and still nothing lol. It is depressing.

(5)(11)
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mc

If you’re making 300 plus applications you need to do something else. I’m not denying it’s difficult but everyone I know from university with fairly impressive academics (Juris first from Oxford) has ended up with a commercial pupillage.

(7)(2)
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Barrister

This is a bit silly. “Everyone I know with a first from Oxbridge has a pupillage” does not in any way counter the argument that (1) Getting a pupillage is hard (the great majority of people do not have a first from Oxbridge, and getting a first from Oxbridge is hard) and (2) It is much harder to get a pupillage than a training contract (that being the original point made).

(2)(3)
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mc

I agree . My point is that for certain sections of the bar that is what you need to make a competitive application. If you don’t have that then you need to consider (a) whether it’s worth doing; and (b) if you do, stop moaning that it’s difficult. If you don’t have that very specific background go to a law firm, there are many great firms that are less picky that the commercial bar.

(3)(1)
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Anonymous

I doubt it is as high as 40:1. Firms like to inflate their application figures by including things like duplicate applications and those who start but never finish their applications (and lots of firms are guilty of this).

(0)(2)
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Anonymous

Not sure what benefit they would gain from this. A high ratio of applicants to TC positions would probably scare people away from applying.

(0)(0)
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Anonymous

“as a straight-A student with an award-winning start-up on the side” —- you might want to edit your 2:1 on your LinkedIn profile then

(34)(14)
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Real Life Calling

Five things people actually need to know before joining the legal profession:

1) unless you have a 1st, you do not have strong or excellent academics but merely good or okay academics. Forget about A-levels or post graduate marks, your degree mark is king first and foremost.
2) an llm as part of an lcp or bptc is not a real llm, and chambers and firms know this. THEY DO NOT VALUE AN LLM AS PART OF AN LPC OR BPTC!
3) people who moan or feel disadvantaged are joining the wrong profession. It is hard to become either a solicitor or barrister and it never gets easier! Get over it, and then get on with your work.
4) everyone you meet (personal or professional) are now your enemy. They will either be trying to take work from you as members from another firm/chambers. They will be your competitors for a training contract or pupilage. They will be trying to show they are better or God knows what else than you. They are all against. Except they are not! They are you friends, peers, colleagues or family. Get over yourself.
5) if for any reason you realise you are not cut out for the legal profession, do not waste your time and money and just move on. Too many people dreams of joining a top firm or chambers with subpar grades, skills, understanding and even attitude. If you are not right for the job just move on.

(29)(42)
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Real Life Calling

Any dislikes on this comment are either delusional or stupid. All I have done is state the facts. If you dislike them, move on – get over yourself.

(7)(35)
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future magic circle trainee

I disagree with point 5. My A levels were BBB and my 2.1 was 61% yet I still secured vacation schemes including MC, SC and a top US firm. Grades are not everything as you are suggesting. Someone who has a First from Oxbridge won’t automatically get in over someone with a low 2.1 or “subpar” grades!

(25)(3)
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future magic circle trainee

No I did not. As long as you have a 2.1 you will be fine even if its 61% like I had. A level grades are not everything. Law firms are not looking for book worms!

(5)(2)
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Anonymous

One person gaining a good training contract or pupillage does not detract from the first comments point. It is a challenging profession where you must be sure. how many students pay 10-20K for the bptc or lpc and never more beyond paralegal? About 70% if the statistics from the inns Bar aSRA are correct. That is how hard it is. Moreover, how many people pay 3-5K to top up their bptc or lpc to an LLM which is actually worthless? Sorry it is, if you wanted to do an LLM go do one but don’t do the lpc and top up moduse just to say you have an LLM. top firms and chambers know they are worthless, save your money.

(5)(2)
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tc

Congrats and I agree, MC firms do occasionally take a punt on someone with average a levels and an average degree. This isn’t the same in the whole profession. For example, it’s still unlikely you would get anywhere near a decent commercial chambers where an Oxbrifgr first would be vastly preferred.

(5)(0)
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Anonymous

It is a good job that the school and university system do not produce solvent, free thinking, liberal minded young people who have a sense of solidarity among themselves.
Just imagine if young people continued the “save the whale” trend, and you were afraid to eat farmed salmon or palm oil for fear of their wrath.
It would be terrible, what society needs, as it races to the bottom, is for young people to want to join institutions like Nabarros or like 99 King’s Bench Walk and feel elitist about themselves. You might just get married, with your fellow trainee as best man, in the Bahamas, because one of the clients that you are prepared to work for funds deforestation in the Amazon or is an animal feed company.
Well done. Think of yourself as being 10 times better than a hippy, don’t think that young people ought to be ten times better hippies than people were in the 1960s.

(8)(5)
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Anonymous

Hun, LLMs are never really valued. It doesn’t matter whether you took it as part of the LPC or not. A barrister acquaintance of me completed an LLM at a very reputable university in the Netherlands. She said in her chambers it was constantly referred to as “her year abroad”. That’s how much this stuff is appreciated.

(0)(1)
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Trainee from beyond EC4

As per ‘5’, if for the majority of time you actually want do anything else besides putting together bundles, photocopying and the other tedious crap they make you do at City Firms during your TC…consider going regional.

(4)(1)
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Anonymous

Oh please… that’s just what regional lawyers tell themselves to justify their decision to go to the regions rather than work in the city. There are many good reasons to not work in the city – better hours, less stressful commutes, cheaper rent. But better work is rubbish, trainees in the city are working on bigger, more complex deals and will usually get a lot more responsibility than just photocopying.

Regardless, you’re just a trainee for 2 years, so even if the work wasn’t as good as a city trainee, as soon as you qualify, things get even better.

(0)(1)
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Quimsy

I remember skipping down Holborn singing “I’ve got a golden ticket!” at the top of my voice when so got my criminal pupillage.

A few years later, I’m sat in KFC writing this, with another Mags brief to prep. Glamourous, non?

(15)(0)
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Jones Day Trainee

If you’re joining us as a trainee, here is some advice: contact your supervisor ahead of schedule and ask them what they like. A normal blowie should suffice, but y’never know these days; some of them are pretty freaky. Don’t be surprised if your index finger works its way into, uh, y’know…

(6)(1)
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Anonymous

Levels of intensity are higher at MC and US firms, responsibility much higher at US firms. The fact that the author has such an experience re: hours, intensity, impact on personal/social life at a mid-market (and perfectly respectable) firm like Nabarro is perhaps telling of how serious even firms previously known for being the “work life balance” firms have become. If a student, figure out what it is you want and what you’re willing to sacrifice.

(4)(1)
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Anna

As an 18 year qualified solicitor I must say not much has changed since my trainee days except women definitely can wear trousers now! A very interesting read. Be encouraged. Qualify into something you absolutely love and your job will be your hobby which makes dislike of long hours and no social life very palatable. And you will reap all the benefits over time including great project work, a sense of real worth and being somebody people want to listen to and the money to go and have that 5 star holiday and unwind twice a year.

(3)(0)
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