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What makes a good trainee solicitor (according to employers)?

21 January 2015 | tagged New lawyers news

Rob Marrs

Rob Marrs, senior policy and development manager at the Law Society of Scotland, asked a group of industry experts what they think makes a good trainee solicitor.

John Lennon was once asked at school ‘what do you want be when you grow up?’. Lennon answered ‘happy’. His teacher said that he didn’t understand the assignment. Lennon answered that his teacher didn’t understand life.

And so it is with many law students. I often ask ‘’what sort of lawyer do you want to be?’. Many say criminal defence. Others are keen on mergers & acquisitions or judicial review work. Some are less specific and say ’a transactional lawyer’ or ’a litigation lawyer’. I don’t think many have ever said to me ‘I want to be a good lawyer’. Perhaps it is assumed? Fewer still have answered ‘I want to be a happy lawyer’. Take what you want from that.

The big question

We recently held a meeting of solicitors and HR folk and asked them the big question: what makes a good trainee solicitor?. Between them the organisations at the meeting offer a decent percentage of traineeships in Scotland each year.

Their answer to the question was illuminating.

The first thing they looked for was intellectual ability. Regardless of type of firm – or, in the case of in-house solicitors, regardless of whether it is a law firm at all – this was an absolute must have. Extra-curricular activities, volunteering, internships and all that jazz are important but the message was clear: grades matter (simply because grades are the simplest way of adjudicating intellectual ability from an application form).

The much vaunted commercial awareness was also at the top of the list. I’ve written about the difficulties this term causes and what I think it means before but it can be summed up quite simply: understand the market, understand the product, and understand the clients.

Those two were perhaps obvious to anyone who has tried to get as much free stuff as possible at a recruitment fair. But what else were they looking for?

They wanted trainee solicitors to be self-directed, driven and have the ability to take the initiative.

Get the basics right

They wanted attention to detail (many bemoan very basic spelling errors in applications including people spelling the name of the organisation incorrectly).

They wanted trainees to be confident. They wanted them to be sociable – more than just trainee solicitors – and wanted them to be able to show what they’d contribute to the firm (and not just in billable hours’ terms).

Perhaps most interestingly, many said they looked for an obvious sense of intellectual curiosity or an inquisitiveness. It wasn’t enough to be strong academically but there had to be a genuine interest in the law and the markets they would be working in. Finally, a number of firms said they wanted people with sound judgement.

It was interesting that not one said a specific grade was necessary. No one was looking for certain schools or universities on a CV. They wanted bright, well-rounded, confident folk with a passion for law. That future trainees would be ‘good’ was assumed.

The focus on sociability, contribution and inquisitiveness might suggest that our recruiters are also hoping that their trainees will be happy. 


For more information about applying for a traineeship email


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