When I volunteered to do a blog entry, I was asked to write about anything that I would have found helpful when I was applying for training contracts. A wide remit, but it did make me think. I (slowly) concluded that I would really like to have known how trainees best approach their training contracts and what kinds of working attitudes and mindsets really make a difference. If I'd really understood this at the time, I could have more accurately tailored my applications and interview technique to put forward that I had the very same qualities. So, drawing on my own experience to date (I have just started my fourth and final seat) and that of some fellow trainees, I've set out below a few simple thoughts on what I've learnt along the way. I hope that these give you a small insight into life as a trainee and help you to tailor your application and interview technique accordingly.
Of course there will be people that you don't naturally click with (and vice versa!), but this doesn't mean you can't be polite and friendly. A training contract (and interviews and assessment centres) will be a much better experience if you take the time to get to know your colleagues and make friends of them, in particular the other trainees and those in your immediate team. Working with people with you get on with and, equally importantly, who get on with you is central to realising your own potential during the training contract; you will enjoy your work more, get more out of it and perform better. As Terribly Nice Teri (we call her TNT) says, "Don't take on the clichéd "best-man-win" mentality, it's so outdated." Good advice, especially for assessment centres!
Think about the wider context. For example, when asked to do something, think about why you're doing it and its relevance for the matter as a whole. If it's not obvious, then ask your supervisor and open up discussion about the client and work. This will make the task more relevant and interesting and you will learn a lot more knowing the true context of what you're doing. You will also come across enthusiastic and it may well lead to follow up work with that client or file. You can demonstrate your curiosity fairly easily in the assessment process by asking follow up questions in interviews and fully engaging with topics of conversation in the more informal "meet and greet" sessions.
Don't rush into urgent work without planning what you're about to do. For example, if it's finalising an Application and accompanying witness statement and exhibit for taking down to court last minute, then think about how long it's going to take to amend, print, paginate and collate. Plan how you're going to get to court and what you need to do once you're there. Don't Panic. The only way you're going to get rid of stress is by doing the piece of work causing that stress. A calm approach to working under pressure can be difficult to deploy, but if you remember that you can always ask for help, it is perfectly possible. Unruffled Neetu (we call her Neetu…) suggests that you can bring this out during assessment centre exercises and when answering on the spot questions in interviews. You'll make a much better impression to the recruiters.
Take this beyond a basic commercial awareness of the client and their industry, and think about it from the point of view of your firm. It can be difficult to do this at the start of your training contract (unless you've already had relevant work experience) but trying to pick up on the financial side of the matters that you get involved with is a worthwhile exercise. Learning about each client's demands and seeing how the fee earners in charge shape the method of working and fee structure to meet these is both interesting and beneficial. Tied into this is recognising the importance of business development in producing new work for the firm and having a clear idea of the firm's own strategy and business plan. A basic knowledge of the latter is particularly useful for anyone at the applications/interview stage and can usually be partially uncovered with a little bit of online research into the firm.
If you're not confident about doing something, do it anyway; you'll be more confident the next time. Volunteer yourself for pro bono or social positions within the firm even if you're busy. Try and take on types of work that you've not done before and encourage people to give you more complex and interesting tasks. Try to write a blog entry that's 982 words long. Try to be enthusiastic about all aspects of your work and be ready and willing to push yourself. This way you will develop your own confidence and skill-set more quickly, and a useful by-product is that you will make a good impression along the way. No one expects you to get everything perfect the first time; so have a go at things that you wouldn't usually have the confidence to try. Challenge Anika (We call her Rice) agrees and stresses that this approach can be especially useful in your first seat. I would add that at the applications stage, showing a genuine and demonstrable enthusiasm for challenging yourself will without a doubt put you in a much stronger position for the rest of the assessment process.
I hope that these five simple points offer you some insight into how trainees can approach their work and make the most of their training contract experience. In turn, I hope that they assist you at least a little with writing your applications and preparing for interviews and assessment days. Thanks for reading.
Jack studied Economics & Geography at Exeter University and complemented this with a MSc in Sustainable Development. He then went on to complete the GDL and LPC at the University of Law in Guilford before joining us a trainee in our London office in September 2014.