5 things I wish I knew when starting my Training Contract

  • 5 mins read

1. You are not expected to remember every word spoken by Lord Denning (or any word)
I finished my degree 3.5 years before I started my training contract and after I spent several hours papier-mâché -ing all of my revision notes into an apple costume for a University Hockey Social (no joke!), the crucial case names and judgements I had spent so long revising seemed to fly from my head.
Whilst the LPC acted as a good refresher, it provided more of a practice-based learning than academic and I worried that I should have a better grasp on those principle creating cases. However, I soon came to realise that in practice, as long as you had a grasp of the legal principles, case names are hardly referenced. Further, worry not, if you are unsure of any tasks or questions asked of you, Ashfords are members of a number of knowledge databases such as Practical Law, Westlaw and Lexis where you can quickly refresh your understanding.

2. PSC stands for Professional Skills Course (and is not to get confused with the LPC)
Starting my training contract, I was clueless as to the extent of additional training, exams and study that I may or may not have to partake in. The PSC is a compulsory programme set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) which must be completed by all trainee solicitors. Whilst the SRA provides for three compulsory modules - Client Care, Finance & Business Skills and Advocacy - and a set number of electives, at Ashfords all of the modules are compulsory as they choose the electives for you. The only module which was examined was Finance & Business Skills which, although open book, required some revision and preparation. Advocacy also involved prepping and participating in a mini trial.
At Ashfords, we took our PSC modules either at UWE (Bristol) or Exeter University. The classes took place with all of the trainees from across the Ashfords' offices which provided an opportunity to catch up with your intake (and there was the bonus of a free lunch and generally shorter hours than the standard office day).
I wish I had known more about the PSC before starting so that I knew I didn't need to unnecessarily worry or stress over the extent of any examinations I may still have to face.

3. My work life balance is still great!
It seems to be drilled into you that you should expect to work every hour under the sun, say yes to everything and cancel your social life. However, this is far from the truth.

Whilst you are expected to work hard, my general working day starts at 9 and ends between 6 and 6.30. Yes, you do get the odd occasion when security is sending you out of the door at 10.00PM; however, these days are few and far between.

Your qualified colleagues also appreciate that you are a trainee solicitor, emphasis on the word trainee, and that therefore you are generally slower at completing a piece of work than they are. It is an encouraged practice to ask (1) when do you need this by; and if you already have a list of work, (2) I have three pieces of drafting already due today and it is not likely I would be able to get to complete it all today, can you speak to X and see if they are happy for me to prioritise your work over theirs for today or is it possible this can wait? It may be that it can’t wait and you have a long day ahead of you, although it is more likely that it can, something else can, or that someone else is available to complete the work instead of you.

4. You don't need to spend your entire pay on Meghan Markle's wardrobe
Everyone always gets the jitters over the first impression outfit. Whilst it is important, particularly if you are starting in a litigation seat, that you have at least one court suit to hand, your wardrobe doesn't have to be taken over by Savile Row.
At Ashfords, the general rule of thumb is "Smart". You will normally find the female trainees wearing a skirt and blouse or simple shift dress and the male trainees in suit trousers and a shirt (no tie or jacket).
Fridays are the firm's dress down day where "Office Casual" takes over; however, how much people change for Fridays is dependent on your office. If you're to be based in Bristol or Taunton they tend to take casual Fridays more seriously, in Exeter, it's hard to notice a difference between Thursday and Friday unless you're located on the 3rd floor. Of course, we also have the obligatory charity dress down days every now and again.

5. Lists are a God send
There will most definitely be a time when you feel a bit overwhelmed and you are not sure what to do. This may come on your first day, in your first month, or in the last week of your third seat. This is very normal and it doesn't mean that you are doing anything wrong.
If you develop a really good task list, or "to do" list, whether this be using the sticky notes function on your computer or a hand drawn list, it makes life a lot simpler when keeping track of who asked you, what they asked for, when its due and what you need from other people. It also helps you in prioritising your workload. Time spent on this is worthwhile in the long run.
In addition, take a pen and pad everywhere. When someone is giving instructions, write them down then and there, that way you can clarify points and you don't miss anything.

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