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Trainees slam remote-working

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“All the old farts who bang on about WFH being ‘the future’ need to read this”

Trainee solicitors are fed up with remote-working and the lack of support they receive from seniors.

Bouts of exhaustion and feelings of isolation and frustration appear to be rife at the junior end of the solicitor profession with many longing for a return to the office.

“Out of sight, out of mind is truer than ever,” said one trainee. “The supervision and learning experience has fallen off a cliff … I’ve really felt my mental health slipping over the last few months,” added another. “A lot of the time it feels like I’m a robot that processes and churns out tasks, day and night.”

These were some of the sentiments that played out in the comments section of a news story we published last week about the effect of lockdown on lawyers’ mental health. It seems cracks are beginning to show in the WFH model, particularly among trainee and junior lawyers.

“I don’t think senior people quite grasp how awful it is,” wrote one Legal Cheek reader. “Most trainees are in house shares or live alone in small apartments. The learning by osmosis and being able to sit round the partners table and listen in on calls without being announced: gone. The little walks, coffee breaks and lunchtime chats with your cohort: gone. The ability to bond with your new colleagues and get used to living in London: gone.”

The rest of the comments similarly expose the reality for rookies working from home living from work, and make for eye-opening reading. “All the old farts who bang on about WFH being ‘the future’ need to read this,” wrote one commenter.

And so it seems a generational divide is brewing: on the one hand there are trainees living in house shares or small apartments (spare a thought for the trainee “working 15 hour days at a camping table at the foot of my bed” or the one grappling with “sh*t technology”) and, on the other, “the people over 35 with families, established careers, and nice big houses in the commuter belt that are absolutely loving WFH”.

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“WFH full-time (or just for most of the time) is not a level playing field between junior and senior fee-earners in the same way a shared office space is,” wrote one trainee below the bottom-line. “Partners and senior staff desperately need to grasp this, or communicate better that they understand.”

The WFH trainee who has “silently sacrificed so much” is being made to feel like a “resource”, according to one commenter. They bear the brunt of “screen/computer heavy work of making bibles”, and in one instance, “one trainee was told by their supervisor that he hadn’t got in touch for a few days because he ‘had sort of forgotten about him'”.

The experience is further compounded by the “expectation that [trainees] can work whenever” and “no one knows/appreciates/gives time in lieu” as they would do in the office.

“[Working from home] I feel constantly on edge, as if I step away from my computer for anymore than a few minutes it will be assumed that I’m just bunking off and watching Netflix, rather than doing a legitimate workday activity like going for a walk or getting lunch,” said one trainee, laying bare the extent to which the work from home situation is taking its toll on trainees.

This narrative contrasts somewhat with our findings in this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. Thousands of juniors that were surveyed towards the start of the coronavirus pandemic reported an overwhelmingly positive response to the move to working from home.

“I’ve probably had more catch-ups and interactions than I would have had in the office,” said one anonymous survey respondent, whilst another trainee reeled off a list of the virtual socials such as “quizzes, escape rooms, cook-a-longs, yoga classes” they had the privilege of taking part in. “My team have a weekly meeting where we all discuss our weeks and how we are feeling,” they added.

With a return to office-based working likely in “a few short months”, according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it remains to be seen whether the situation for trainees will improve.

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48 Comments

Not A Boomer

Snowflakes. Bless them. So fragile.

(50)(186)

Sheev

At least they have a TC

To the one who posted the comment about over 35s having it great

“the people over 35 with families, established careers, and nice big houses in the commuter belt that are absolutely loving WFH”.

Oh? Is that right?

You mean the people over 35 with the two or three kids that they’re having to homeschool while trying to maintain some kind of contact with elderly parents who are struggling to cope, all while working on reduced pay without reduced outgoings?

Yeah, life’s a breeze for the over-35s at the moment.

Or to look at it another way:

Your only responsibilities are your work and your own clothing/food/toilet needs (and you’re probably still in DryNites).

Get over yourself!

(107)(117)

Anon

Also big lol at the idea that living in the commuter belt is in any way enjoyable.

Commuter belt is dull, grey, monotonous purgatory.

The only reason people live commuter belt these days is because London has got too expensive for middle class professionals to buy a nice house in a decent area.

Prior to that it was sought after by the terminally dull only.

TurboLegal LLP

Lmao so true. Imagine working like a proper wagecuck at some sweaty City boiler room only to end up living in Esher or Croydon. 😄😄😄

Guy

“…and your probably still in Drynites” – stop projecting, only a former bedwetter would know what drynites nappies are.

Anonymous

Got to be honest though about working from home – it’s a huge relief not to be sexually harassed by creepy older barristers.

Anon

Or even just to have to make small talk with the numerous complete and utter loons at the self employed bar.

Commercial Junior

No, the best bit is not having to make small talk with the junior City solicitor who did the BPTC and couldn’t get pupillage, and now has a massive chip on their shoulder when instructing you.

Anonymous

Well I’m finding it a relief not being constantly pestered and propositioned by attractive younger barristers.

US Firm Trainee

This was therapeutic to read – The reports about firm’s adopting wfh permanently are terrifying. If there wasn’t some sort of promise that wfh will end soon I think I would have already took the plunge and left.

Lev Fin Associate

Here’s a newsflash for you all, the monotonous robotic tasks and preparation of bibles aren’t caused by WFH, that’s your job as a trainee. In other words, you will be doing the exact same when you’re in the office and trust me, it isn’t more fun when you’re in the office working at 1am.

You will be much happier and more content if you change your attitude from “I’m doing the worst jobs” to “I’m gaining a broader understanding of the transaction which will help me as I progress in my career”. This job is full of annoying tasks you may not want to do, but the trick is to focus on what you’ll gain from the task (you always will gain some experience).

(150)(23)

FlourPour

If you do a really good job on that bundle I might let you prepare some draft board minutes and roll them out for the 30 other companies in the group.

Part of the problem for trainees is that the bundles were the price of participation on the transaction but they’re not getting that wider participation. It’s much easier to pick a trainee to listen to a call when they’re in the same office or just down the corridor. It’s not so instinctive and immediate when you have to drag them onto a zoom call and have them sit there on the screen not contributing.

I don’t blame the associates or partners because it’s difficult but I sympathise with these trainees who are missing out on all the passive learning which is like 80% of your TC. I learnt a lot just by talking problems through with my supervisors or listening to them mock the mistakes of the other side’s lawyers. I guess they’re not getting that kind of thing now.

Supervisor of Dreams

Dear Trainee,

Bundling? I have two tasks better suited to your own assessment of your skills and abilities:

The QC needs some help with their closing speech. Please could you draft a first cut as your linguistic input is invaluable, thanks.

Also, the client has an urgent query of great commercial significance. They would like to pay £250ph for you to draft a four page report on privity, just generally, no reference to the facts or their business required.

The timescale is for COB Monday, but I know you and the other trainees have plans (Yo! Sushi Blue Monday deal). I will explain to Counsel and client they will need to wait until Wednesday, as you are on self care annual leave Tuesday.

Any questions let me know, my door is always open. I will be here anyway sorting out that bundle for you.

Ever gratefully yours,

Supervisor of Dreams

Anonymagic

The reference to the privity research just being “general” and not tailored to the facts/client was a bijoux. Cheers

Litigation Associate

It’s not as cut and dry as saying grunt work is good for your long-term career.

Most stuff you do as a trainee is generally pretty pointless and limited utility in that regard.

It does improve your attention to detail. It does help you write crisp emails full of lists of documents, and create a healthy panic before you send anything out without printing it out and proofing it ten times. It does help with file management and using a firm’s document management system. It also helps knowing your way around contracts, their structure, what the key clauses are, what the boilerplates are.

But most of that doesn’t matter all that much and has more limited utility particularly in advisory areas and litigation after you progress beyond 1-2 PQE. You can get a good understanding of contracts without doing 1000 redlines and adding in someone else’s comments for 14 hours a day.

And actually training is very important indeed, particularly in areas like lev fin and funds. It is very important to know your stuff. And you don’t learn any of that by doing grunt work. Nor is it a trainee’s job to exclusively being doing grunt work – either you are a trainee or very junior, or haven’t been given significant responsibility, but it is for supervisor’s to give trainees training and some meatier work if they can handle it, and to let them make their own mistakes.

Furthermore – kudos on being a leveraged finance associate. Up there with securitisation at CC. I mean, yes, the hours are terrible, you’re up all night working across every single timezone, the work is impossibly banal and tedious, as a junior you have limited involvement in RCFs and ICAs and sum of your life’s achievement in the area is getting greater exposure and drafting on those mindnumbingly sh1tty docs no one cares about helping out some greedy bankers who don’t care about you. And the exits are terrible – unless you want less pay working the same hours at GS.

But…I mean…you qualified…you’re an…associate…at a law firm. You go tell the kids to knuckle down….maybe one day they’ll turn out like you!

PS – I sympathise massively with trainees and juniors. A lot are missing out not just on minor things like coffees and drinks, but training and substantive work. Quite frankly when you’re working remotely more senior associates will hoard their hours if things aren’t as busy as they were, and will delegate out the most menial of tasks. It’s harder to get you involved in something and rope you into ad hoc calls when everything is remote.

Realist

This does not seem to include any reference to the fact that a lot of “senior” staff also hate remote working for a number of reasons- trainees are not alone in that respect.

I think the point regarding osmosis/learning in surroundings is a fair one. I am a 3PQE and I can imagine that any training experience reliant solely on zoom calls and Microsoft teams isn’t going to equip you with the sort of client contact or skills that you would have got in an office.

Not very thorough journalism to suggest that a generational divide is brewing over lockdown working conditions. Regardless of your age, everyone has had a difference experience over the past year – young or old, trainee or equity partner, full time or part time, city based or regional.

Hackaforte

‘People in comments section of article comment on it, and some of them disagree with each other’.

Hold the front page! We got Pulitzer material right here!

Anon

Thank you Legal Cheek on behalf of all trainees for sharing this. Maybe now senior staff will take note of our situation.

Anonymous

We won’t. Moan about it on TikTok if you like. You could design a little dance routine to go with it.

Trainee 2021

My TC was postponed by a year because of the pandemic, the firm quoted the main reason as the fact that during closed offices they are unable to provide the same level of training and support. Initially I was very upset with that, especially knowing that so many other firm went ahead with TCs regardless. Now I don’t know anymore, perhaps they were right after all.

Anon

I personally love working from home, and so do many of my trainee colleagues. It will free people to live wherever they want instead of cramming into London flat-shares.

Lord Legalus of Cheekus

Cramming into London flat shares?

Year 11 at School

I think it’s quite evident that the commentators here have don’t have a clue.

Anonymous

Vote up if you prefer working from home, vote down if you prefer not to.

(155)(163)

Anonymous

Vote up if u think I’m fit

Anonymous

“A lot of the time it feels like I’m a robot that processes and churns out tasks, day and night.”

This is not a symptom of working from home.

FlourPour

At least when we were in the office the associates might have chatted to you for 2-5 minutes before inputting their orders. I doubt trainees are even given that courtesy now.

Touker

As someone who trained part-way and qualified during the pandemic, training during WFH is fundamentally what you make of it. It was tough training while being away from the office because you miss out on many of the aforementioned things. While you can go on about how you much prefer being in the office (I do too), it will not change a thing. What you can do is put a lot of extra effort into getting involved in as much work as you can with partners and associates, even just to shadow their calls. It will benefit you in the long-run if you use this mentality – I ironically learned a lot more during my second year (largely) WFH compared to my first year in the office because of this. Many trainees in my cohort did the same too and they did well whereas a few trainees floundered because they did not put the extra effort into their training. I would say the bigger issue is that WFH has separated the wheat from the chaff.

By the way, I’m not trying to downplay the mental health issues that the pandemic exacerbated. If you are experiencing this, speak up to your supervisor and HR ASAP. Unless you work in a Dickensian sweatshop, most firms will be accommodating (at least in fear that they’ll be found liable if they don’t help).

A.non

Different people have had vastly different experiences with WFH. I don’t think it’s fair to turn it into another way to polarise the generations. Everybody’s domestic circumstances have their own challenges and let’s not forget that nobody asked for any of this.

As the working world starts to plan for a return to a sense of normality, I’m yet to hear of any firm that is forcing people to WFH permanently. Surely it should be welcomed that employers are allowing staff to have greater flexibility regarding their working arrangements.

It’s really disappointing that some people persist on turning everything into an “us versus them” situation.

Nah

Well, Slater and Gordon permanently closed their London office as I understand it, so there’s one significant(ish) firm.

Anon

Agree with this. I’m a junior and my observations are that Partners and seniors are loving it because they know what they’re doing. Juniors are majorly stressing out because simply, they don’t. This is the case with me and other juniors I speak to. There’s only so much you can learn on your own remotely. It’s really stressful having to complete tasks on your own, then having it criticised and torn apart afterwards, with nothing to break up the work as we are all cooped up in lockdown and crap weather. Wfh is not sustainable long term.

A

I love WFH. I don’t like lawyers.

Is your uncle your Father?

Pathetic whingers. If you dont like WFH, partner with fellow snowflakes and start your own firm. Sync funds into office costs, work attire and commuter travel, just so you can prance round London, have watercooler chats, or enjoy the “osmosis” of superficial office chatter.

Topkek

Ok boomer.

Regional, white and middle class trainee

No matter how rubbish your training has been, take solace in the knowledge that you will never be as useless and unprepared as a SQE paralegal forcing their way into the profession.

yes, hello

WFH is not sustainable long term. I predict that law firms will move to a flexible system where people can work work up to x many days a week at home. The flexibility will allow junior staff to go into the office regularly if they wish to.

Bobby Shmurda

And I bet you wrote…”I’m a fast learner and flourish under pressure” in your tc app. Pathetic. Just get on with it. Be thankful you’re employed.

London NQ

Plenty of juniors prefer WFH – just as plenty of seniors prefer working in the office. This is lazy clickbait – people’s preferences will depend on a whole range of issues.

The work itself is the same wherever you do it. My team has done a much better job since March last year of making sure that juniors are invited to join calls even where they are not strictly needed, so they don’t miss out on the wider learning. Pre-recorded online training has generally worked better than old-style tedious (and inconvenient) sit-down lunchtime seminars. And skipping 1.5 hrs a day of commute, being able to eat at home rather than the office canteen, and (on days when I’m less busy) having more flexibility about how I spend my time, make my life immeasurably better. Plus fewer days in the office in future will make it much more affordable to find somewhere decent to live, further out from central London, when things get back to normal.

Anonymous

Nobody is asking you to work and night. Not sure why WFH has so many of you doing this.

NQ

Um, hello – have you done a TC? I’d guess not (or not at a proper firm, anyway)

Just Me

What’s not to like about working from the family weekend pad on the Cotswolds?

Hackaforte

Hold on, hold on…

I thought the people who LIKED working from home were supposed to be the snowflakes, and the people who wanted to go back into the office were virile young go-getters.

Now it’s apparently the other way round!

It’s almost as though it’s a complex scenario that can’t be reduced to crude generational divides or arbitrary sociopolitical leanings. But that’s crazy thinkin’.

Punxsutawney Phil

Phil from Groundhog Day: “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?”

Trainee/junior lawyer: “That about sums it up for me.”

US NQ

Perhaps I’m in the majority here, but I absolutely love WFH. I didn’t sign up to become a lawyer for a social life – I have that already with my non-legal friends. I’m here to make as much money as possible doing fairly interesting work with competent colleagues, and I can do that just as effectively working at home . Plus I no longer have to spend 1.5hrs a day on a crammed tube to and from work; I can rent somewhere nice and spacious in a safe area rather than a studio in zone 1; and whenever there’s downtime in the working day I can spend it with my partner or exercising or getting some fresh air, rather than sitting around in an office with people I don’t particularly like.

Anonymous

It is all about resilience and attitude. The comments on here indicate many lack both.

Shut up boomer

Lawyers are miserable enough. If working at the office makes them less miserable, let them do it.

There’s only so much ‘resilience’ one can develop before they suffer from a breakdown or just quit.

I cringe badly when I hear words like ‘attitude’ being thrown around. It’s very difficult to have a positive attitude to living what sounds like a dystopian ultra late stage capitalism life. Living a flat and pointless life going through completion checklists in the same room you eat and sleep in sucks. It just does.

Anon

Is that what made you ageist? Pathetic. Derivative. Unoriginal. Witless. Enjoy your check lists, you lack the imagination for harder tasks.

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