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How to survive the first terrifying weeks as a newly qualified solicitor

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You never forget your first. Your pulse rockets, your stomach turns over uncomfortably and your expensively-acquired expertise suddenly deserts you in the face of baffling, impatient demands. Yes, September sees Qualification Day, when trainee lawyers across the country see their hourly rate double overnight and are faced with the daunting prospect of giving some actual legal advice.

Just as death rates on A&E wards shoot up in August, when freshly-minted junior doctors are let loose, September and March are particularly dangerous times for a client with a knotty legal problem. Of course, in some firms NQs may be as likely to speak to a client as to ride a unicorn round the canteen — but, eventually, we all have to ditch the stabilizers at some point. So how do you get through those first, terrifying weeks?

Embrace technology

Invest in a telephone headset. Not only will looking like a middle-ranking call centre operator give you an appropriate sense of anomie, but it’ll make it much easier to frantically look up the answer online while on the phone without giving yourself a trapped nerve. Plus, if the prophets of doom are to be believed, we’ll all be replaced by offshore centres in a few years, so you might as well get the hang of the equipment now.

Get a paper trail

Clients have lots of documents. Beautiful, creamy acres of paper, just waiting for you to stick the meter on, prop your feet up on the desk and read them at leisure. If you’re faced with a question you can’t answer, try to think of some documents that might conceivably have some relevance to the issue and insist the client send those to you first. Bonus points if it’s something they’ll have to spend weeks combing through files to find. If you do get a super-efficient client who sends you relevant material in advance, plead IT department failure and ask them to re-send it. No lawyer ever got fired for unfairly blaming the support staff.

Talk the talk

In Father Ted, alcoholic Father Jack survives a weekend with three bishops by answering every question with “That would be an ecumenical matter”. Law firms’ desperation to proclaim their “commercial awareness” gives rookie lawyers a similar solution. Virtually all law firms now describe themselves as being “pragmatic”, “solution-oriented” and/or “client-focused”. Helpfully, that mostly means “doing what the client wants and not worrying too much about the tricky law stuff”. So just memorise a few stock platitudes like, “Well, it’s really a case of weighing up the commercial pressures” or, “I think we need to look at the broader picture”, and you’ll be able to bluff your way through virtually any conference call with aplomb.

Of course, such platitudes are not a substitute for knowing what you’re talking about — but remember that beneath your colleagues’ smooth self-assurance, they’re all bluffing at least half the time. Congratulations on getting your feet under the table. And good luck!

WaitroseLaw is a lawyer with luscious organic selection, impeccable ethics and dinner party skills. She is not affiliated with or authorised by Waitrose.