I wish that I knew all I know now, when I was younger…

…Soon to be NQ solicitor and outgoing JLD committee member Hayley Marsden reflects on her training contract experience.

Horror stories abound about the trainee left in the office until 1am photocopying, or the trainee struggling alone with cases far too complex. Happily, the majority of firms, including my own, are committed to providing a structured, challenging and supportive experience.

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the training contract is the gaining of legal knowledge. The phrase “you won’t need to worry about that too much in practice” is frequently heard whilst studying. However, companies limited by guarantee, unregistered land and defined benefit pensions all still exist in the real world! Learning the practicalities and realities of the law has been a highlight of my training contract.
Many of us have an idea whether we are more suited to contentious or non-contentious work, which can be quickly confirmed once in practice. Although the requirement to gain experience in both areas is being diluted, this does not mean that there is not value in doing so. A non-contentious lawyer will always be a better lawyer for an appreciation of the work their contentious counterpart does in the same area.

On moving into the second year, thoughts inevitably turn to qualification. It is difficult not to be concerned with the prospect of unemployment (however small) looming on the horizon when there is so much truth in the description of the training contract as a two year job interview. It is a huge help to be able to have open and informative discussions, although there is still an unavoidable little bit of tip-toeing!

Throughout my training contract there have been moments of embarrassment, confusion, excitement, worry and achievement. Answering the judge’s question “I’m not sure why you’ve been sent here?” with “I’m not entirely sure either, Sir”. An impromptu tour of a barbed wire factory (in high heels). Realising that the client is, yes, the famous one. A gift from my supervisor of a book entitled “The Bluffers Guide to Law”. Receiving work back without corrections for the first time.

There have been days when I have gone home wondering what I have achieved that day, and days when I have gone home feeling confident that I pulled my weight that day. I have been challenged, but never to the point of being completely out of my depth. I have had the benefit of supervisors who were willing to answer any questions, technical or otherwise. Although the prospect of qualification is daunting, I feel ready, and that I believe, is a result of having had a positive training contract.

So, what would I tell my fresh-faced, nervous new trainee self?

• Be seen

The importance of “face time” in the office is in decline, but come qualification, you want to be recognised across the firm as being committed, amenable and interested. Join the CSR committee, go to the social events, play netball or five a side. If you are not very good at netball or football, play anyway and you will (hopefully) get better.
• Move willingly

A game of musical chairs is on the cards every time the trainees change departments. Pack up your box, make a circuit of your new department until you find the empty desk, the music stops and someone is inevitably left without a hole punch. Try not to accumulate too much…

• Make some noise

Ask, ask, ask! Whether there is something in particular you would like to be involved with or there is something you don’t understand, you’ll only get an answer if you ask the question.

• Enjoy

Enjoy the fact that you can make mistakes (hopefully not too big or too many) as that is the point of training. Enjoy the fact that someone more senior might pay for you if you go to lunch. Enjoy not having strict targets. Enjoy meeting new people and finding a new challenge every six months.

• And of course, join the Leeds JLD!

Meeting trainees and junior lawyers from other firms is invaluable to be able to compare your experience against theirs. Plus, the legal world isn’t actually that big – your peers now are the beginning of a network of contacts which will serve you not only throughout your training contract and on qualification but many years into the future.

Hayley Marsden is an NQ solicitor at Wrigleys and will step down from Leeds JLD Committee in September 2017 after spending three years as Sports rep, Publicity rep and finally National Committee rep.