Created with Mayer Brown

How being an NQ differs from life as a trainee

Avatar photo

By Harriet Hainsworth on

Mayer Brown newly qualified associate Harriet Hainsworth on the step up from trainee to solicitor


After I finished my training contract in September 2014, I took a month’s leave to travel, spending two weeks in Cambodia and two weeks in Vietnam.

Then I came back to London and began life as a newly qualified solicitor. I remember the first day of what, on one level, was just a return to my job, but which also felt like beginning something new.

I was going back to a team I was already familiar with — the corporate department, where I had spent the third seat of my training contract. So I’d only been away for seven months. And I knew the team, who had made quite an effort to keep in touch. Lawyers and other members of staff popped in to see how I had been and to catch up. Very quickly I settled in and was back in the thick of things.

It’s the subtle things that are different. For example, the expectations placed upon you shift slightly. Your work is still checked by senior lawyers, but a little less thoroughly and there’s more contact with clients.

Each deal on which I work, doing things such as co-ordinating due diligence reviews of companies and drafting certain transaction documents, typically involves lawyers at different levels of seniority. A partner leads, supported by various levels of associates and then a trainee. As an NQ, I’m more often required to delegate, which is something I did not often have to consider during my training contract and takes practice.

At the same time, you’re working with people who remember you from the beginning of your career and have seen you come through the process, so there’s a lot of support. It’s also great to have everyone from your own intake around you. Even as an NQ, there is still that sense of togetherness with your former trainee group, spanning across the firm’s various departments.

At Mayer Brown’s London office, you get quite a lot of responsibility during your training contract, so the transition to qualified lawyer is more of a gradual process than a big jump. Plus there is all the training you get. Technical training on the legal aspects of transactions, such as M&A deals, plus practical skill training. We have an NQ development centre where we learn management and communication skills. This gives you a very helpful grounding.

The pressure of the added responsibility is offset by the fact that you are a permanent employee. Although most trainees are taken on full-time, to an extent a training contract is a two year-long interview. You’re always looking ahead towards the next six months when you’ll be moving to a whole new department to start your next seat. You’re just that bit more established after you qualify, which feels nice.

My advice to current trainees about to qualify is to ask as many questions as you can while not being afraid to put yourself forward. The added responsibility which you can take on as a trainee really helps in the transition to becoming an associate — the more exposure to different types of work you can get as a trainee the better. Gradually you will learn what areas of law you most enjoy and start to improve.

Now, having been fortunate enough to secure a position in the department which I feel suits me best, I’m looking to forward to building my career. I’d like to do another client secondment at some stage — I did two during my training contract — but beyond that I’ll just see how it all develops.

Harriet Hainsworth is an associate in the corporate department of Mayer Brown’s London office.

Join the conversation