An open letter to future lawyers, from a future lawyer

Avatar photo

By Legal Cheek on

A trainee at a top City outfit 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.