What I’ve learned as a first year trainee

Trainees-713248-editedThe heatwave has been the longest in history, the World Cup and Wimbledon have dominated our TV screens and the conversation around the water fountain is all beaches, pools and sun tans… it must mean thatmy first year as a trainee solicitor is nearly coming to a close.

The first year in a training contract is challenging. It means spending most of your times so far outside of your comfort zone that you can’t even remember where that was. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned so far.



  1. Put your hand up and say ‘yes’ to everything

By this I don’t just mean work. It goes without saying that if you are asked to do some work for a colleague you will zealously put it on your to do list. However, being a trainee solicitor is about so much more than developing your legal skills. It is about building a profile within the firm and outside of the firm. You want to take this opportunity early on to start developing your legal network and getting a name for yourself as a person that people know, respect and trust. If people get to know you for who you are it makes working with people from different departments much easier; they will be more likely to take the time to explain things and it makes asking for help if you need to much less intimidating.

Some ways to do this are:

  • join sports teams
  • go to networking events
  • if you have capacity offer your assistance to other departments
  • volunteer to do charity fundraising
  • take the initiative to run your own events if there is something you feel strongly about
  • socialise with your colleagues as well as just working with them 
  1. Keep an open mind about seats

Here at Gateley first year trainees do not have any say over where they end up in their first year. I ended up in fairly niche areas for both of my first seats – admittedly, areas about which I had limited knowledge and probably wouldn’t have chosen if I’d been asked to back in September. However, both of these seats have been extremely rewarding and given me the opportunity to experience areas of law that I had never considered. I would even go as far as saying that I would consider qualifying into my first seat!

  1. Dealing with mistakes

You are not expected to get everything right first time. In my first month I made a fairly major mistake (there were tears!) but the most amazing thing about it was that everyone rallied immediately to help fix the problem. Putting your hand up as soon as you realise what’s happened and asking for help is the best thing you can do in this situation, the chances are they will have seen the same thing happen before and will know how to deal with it. It is important to remember that you are not the first person to have made a mistake and that everyone has a ‘war story’ or two to share. In a weird way this experience actually helped me to get to know my team better and it certainly was not the end of my career as a trainee!

  1. Taking feedback on board

In the same vein as the point above, something every trainee has to get used to is seeing their work come back covered in red pen. As high achievers, used to getting A’s in everything and being top of the class, this stings at the start. However, red pen is not necessarily a bad thing. You’ll get used to different partners’ quirks and drafting styles and, as you get more comfortable in each seat, the red pen should decrease. Nonetheless, it is important to take a good look at yourself and your work and identify areas that you could improve. If you make the same mistake repeatedly try to think of a method to help yourself remember.

  1. Manage expectations

As a first year there is a tendency to want to be able to deliver everything as quickly as possible. I have found that it is better to ask whether something is urgent and if there is a deadline. This way you can manage your work load and the client’s / your supervisor’s expectations. Generally speaking this means that people are impressed when you get the work to them before they were expecting it rather than being annoyed because you said you’d get it to them that day and it ended up landing in their inbox at the end of the week. This will give you more control over how you spend your day and make your life less stressful. 

With just over a month left of being a first year I am sure there will be many more learning experiences to come before I cross the threshold into second year. For now, I hope the experiences I have shared above will be helpful to those embarking on a training contract in September and remember, every day’s a school day.