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Life as a trainee lawyer during a global pandemic

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Legal Cheek Careers catches up with Irwin Mitchell’s Daryna Plysak

Irwin Mitchell trainee solicitor Daryna Plysak

Ahead of the the firm’s vacation scheme and training contract application deadlines early next month, Legal Cheek Careers caught up with Irwin Mitchell trainee solicitor Daryna Plysak to discuss her career journey so far. She reflects on growing up with dyslexia, co-authoring a book on legal tech and completing her training contract in the middle of a global pandemic.

You’re completing a training contract during the middle of a global pandemic. How’s it been so far? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Before the lockdown, I would sit next to my team in an open plan office — I was able to ask questions and overhear case discussions. This was a great help in developing my understanding of the law and gaining an insight into the strategy of running a case. I would also attend social and business development events which allowed me to get to know the wider team and create new contacts.

Following the lockdown, the biggest challenge was going from full-time office work to working from home. I realised that as an extrovert a lot of my energy and motivation was linked to my team and I had to find a way to re-create it whilst working at home.

Irwin Mitchell quickly provided us with laptops and other equipment which helped to make the transition easier. We were also given access to Microsoft Teams which contains chat and video functionality. For me, this had a big impact on my experience; the ability to send a quick message or have a video call with my buddy, team and supervisors was very helpful and less formal than a traditional call or email.

I’m currently in the general counsel team which is based across several different offices and the new tools have allowed me to have really thorough training and work with a number of different people on complex problems despite having never met in person.

I feel the lockdown has helped me develop new skills and has also provided some new opportunities. For example, I was able to attend several events that would normally be in-person and usually in London i.e. the Legal Geek conference and a Tech Nation event which were brilliant.

I’ve seen you’ve written a book on legal tech in which you speak about cyber security within law firms. Tell me more about this.

Last year I came across an opportunity to co-author a book on the impact of technology on legal services. It’s an area that I have been following for some time and in particular the impact on cyber security.

As a member of the Security Champions Network at Irwin Mitchell I’ve had several opportunities to work with Graham Thompson, our chief information security officer (CISO). We were keen to contribute as we felt it was important to share our knowledge of how other firms can become more cyber secure. An example of this was showcasing the benefit of finding internal champions who will act as a bridge between case handlers and the security team to ensure a consistent approach and collaboration.

We were successful in having our chapter selected and published in The Legal Tech Book.

The application deadline for Irwin Mitchell's Vacation Scheme is Monday 4 January 2021

How have you applied your interest in legal tech to your training contract so far?

A large part of this has been taking the time to attend events and webinars, listening to podcasts and reading so that I could learn more about trends and understand what other industries are doing. I could then bring these learnings into the business.

Being a trainee, I am in a great position to see a wide range of services, clients and processes where some of these ideas can be tested and applied, particularly those incremental improvements that can have a big impact when realised across the business.

You don’t have to be an expert in technology — the value comes from understanding how it can be applied to the business, solve real-life problems and enhance the service we are able to deliver to our clients.

I see from your LinkedIn that you’re dyslexic. In one post you say that once you changed your perception of dyslexia, you removed any negativity attached to it. How has dyslexia impacted your legal journey so far?

Growing up and reading things like dyslexia means you are not as capable and not seeing any people with dyslexia in the legal sector did make me question if I am good enough? And would having dyslexia hold me back?

The key for me was to put myself forward for various opportunities. The determination, learning and confidence come from the experiences you have and the more you do the better you get. It’s a feedback loop: you have a go at something, you either succeed or you don’t, but either way you learn. I knew that if I didn’t put myself forward for fear of getting it wrong then I would never know if I could have a career in law.

Working at Irwin Mitchell I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from some amazing people who have changed the way in which I see dyslexia. I want people to see that dyslexia is only a barrier if you let it be one.

As we face into some of the challenges and opportunities in the legal sector: whether political, social, economic or promises of technology, now more than ever we need to see the opportunity of diverse ideas, ways of working and problem-solving.

For anyone who is looking to find out more about neurodiversity I recommend having a look at this website.

Now a trainee, what piece of advice would you give your first-year self?

I’d say make the most of the experts around you, your tutors and professors. Ask them questions, listen, learn and take their advice on board. Say yes to opportunities and have more belief in your abilities. Lastly, recognise that careers don’t always follow a straight line and it’s important to be open-minded.

What new skills should aspiring lawyers look to develop as the legal profession continues to embrace technology?

I think it’s important to be adaptable, curious and open-minded. Strong communication and negotiation skills coupled with an ability to question why things are done a certain way are important now and will continue to be sought after.

Lastly, spend time understanding what technology is capable of, how it’s progressing and what it can do for clients and a business.

The application deadline for Irwin Mitchell's 2023 Training Contract is Monday 4 January 2021

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