How to Excel in the First Seat of Your Training Contract 

Hilda-Georgina Kwafo-Akoto

“There’s no secret to success in this world. The key is graft.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

4th September 2018 marked not only Beyoncé’s 37th birthday but also the anniversary of the first year of my training contract. Looking back on my first year, I have compiled my bank of tips on how to hit the ground running. I hope these help you chart your path to success as you embark on your exciting next chapter as a trainee solicitor. 

Prioritising workload

At the beginning of your first seat, it is essential that you find the most effective way of managing your inbox. It is hugely important that you keep on top of your emails. A trainee’s time is often split between tasks and you will need to be flexible as you never know when you will be asked to assist with a new matter which may involve re-ordering your to-do-list for the day.

Each day I write down the tasks I need to complete and make a judgment call on the order in which I will tackle each task as tasks often take longer than anticipated. Judgment is a key attribute of any successful lawyer. It is a sensible approach to ask the giver of a task when they need the work completed by.

Email Etiquette

Moving on to email etiquette and how best to respond to emails in a professional manner. This is best deduced from the style adopted by the sender.  If you are initiating the correspondence, I would always start the email with the formal salutation of “Dear”. Whilst there is no such thing as the “perfect email”, strive for an email that uses the appropriate greeting and sign off i.e. Many thanks/ Kind Regards/Warm Regards and clearly expresses the information to be conveyed.

Document management system 

Navigating your firm’s document management system may initially prove challenging but the sooner it is conquered the better. If you have any apprehensions then discuss them with your peers, secretary or IT department. It is essential that you are confident in your ability to: (i) file documents in the correct folder with the department’s preferred naming style and; (ii) locate documents on the system to be emailed across to a fee earner or to serve as a template when you have been asked to draft a covering letter for the service of a statement of case.

Trainee admin tasks 

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

In your role as a trainee solicitor, you are likely to be asked to carry out all or most of the following tasks: (i) filing documents on the document management system or HMCTS e-filing service; (ii) booking meeting rooms and sending round calendar invites; (iii) preparing court bundles; (iv) liaising with clerks at chambers; (v) arranging transcription services for hearings and trials and (v) drafting covering letters, research notes and attendance notes. 

All of the above are tasks that need to be completed to the best of your ability. The rest of the team are relying on you being organised, conscientious and meticulous. To be more actively involved in matters and given greater responsibility, you will need to show that you a diligent team player. Do not shy away from the so called ‘less glamourous’ tasks. Personally, I would not always equate the legal profession with glamour. (Even Mike Ross had to spend time in the legal storage room!)

Research notes and attendance notes 

It is important to take a step back and consider how your research note will facilitate the team’s understanding of the legal issues underpinning the client’s commercial problem or goal. You must ensure that you understand the scope of the research task so take notes and if in doubt ask!

Attendance notes of meetings and conference calls can also be particularly tricky as you have to record the content of the discussion. The end product should be an accurate summary with headings where appropriate rather than a transcript.

The training contract is a learning curve and you are constantly enhancing your skillset. 

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