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The things I wish I had known when starting a training contract

Fourth-seat trainee Emily looks back at what she wishes she’d know before starting her training contract and shares some tips for future trainees.

There is a lot of literature out there aimed at preparing you for training contract applications, and inspiring you to persevere when an assessment centre doesn’t always go your way. But what about when you have secured the Holy Grail training contract, what happens next?

I can remember the first day of my training contract like it was yesterday. I had spent three weeks based at TLT HQ bonding (for life) with my intake and undertaking our PSC modules, and then suddenly I was at my first desk. I felt like I had gotten through the hard part, I had the training contract, that’s what everyone wanted! I spent that first day trying to teach myself how to scan and send an email, and generally just trying to make a good impression. It dawned on me, as I left the office that night, that the hardest (and most exciting) part was still very much to come.

As I approach the final few weeks of my training contract, I have vowed to never forget that feeling. I hope that one day in the future, I will be in a position to help those starting out in their own careers, as those around me offered their support back then. I’ve put together a list of my top tips for those preparing to start their training contracts.

Things I wish I had known

1 - Grow your network from day one

This means both within your firm and externally, too. I have found that my profile within the firm has grown rapidly by getting involved with “extra-curriculars” such as being part of our charity committee, becoming an Envision mentor and running the trainee Instagram account.

It means you interact with colleagues from areas of the firm that you may otherwise never come across. Creating a reputation through these various avenues, means more senior colleagues also know your name, which is only going to help as you progress.

Outside of TLT, it is never too early to start attending events and asking to be involved in client-facing opportunities. You may think that there’s no point given that you are at the bottom of the pecking order, but clients ultimately work with individuals, so leaving a lasting impression is important at every stage of your career. Equally, don’t dismiss those relationships you have with friends and fellow professionals – you are all the partners of the future, so the friend on an accountancy apprenticeship at KPMG may come in handy one day!

2 - Become a well-rounded lawyer

There are lots of things you can do at work to achieve this, but there are plenty of opportunities outside of work too. The instinct in most of us, especially at the outset of our careers is to drop everything and have work as our only focus. That is not healthy, nor is it achievable for a sustainable period of time. You will be a better solicitor as a result of all of the extra-curriculars that you do (without realising it, these will develop skills that you can actively use in work), and by allowing yourself time with your support network, whether this be family, friends, partners, pets or your fellow trainees.

3 - Find the little hacks that work for you and make your day-to-day life that bit easier

You will work with a range of people during your training contract, and encounter their various working styles and approaches. It’s a great opportunity to take inspiration from their habits to find what works best. The more people you work with, the more you’ll realise there is no set way to organise your workload, just picking an approach that works for you is key. These can be small things, as simple as colour-coding your diary, to make day-to-day life a bit easier.

Utilise your training time, and when you qualify, you will be the most organised and efficient version of yourself (which is never a bad thing!). 

4 - Most importantly, give yourself a break

If you’ve gotten this far, then you’re not shy of hard work and have probably been pretty successful in your academic career to date. The sooner you can accept that you can’t know everything from day one, and you’re not going to be the best at what you’re doing, the easier your life will be. Embrace the unknown, and go the extra mile to try and understand something, especially something that you’re interested in.

Ultimately, you have two years to shape the kind of lawyer that you want to be, so enjoy and utilise every minute that you have, remember how hard you have worked to get to this point, and embrace how hard you will have to work to get to the finish line. I can say, with complete confidence as that finish line comes into sight, that it’s worth every moment.

Emily is a fourth seat trainee solicitor for TLT, currently in the Technology & Intellectual Property team, qualifying across the General Commercial and Commercial Regulatory teams. Emily is based in the Bristol office.