Advice column: I can't get the trainee I'm mentoring to shut up

Dear Ash

I am currently mentoring a trainee in my department and, although I normally have no issue with such delegated responsibility, I am finding this particular candidate a bit troublesome.
To say that the trainee has verbal diarrhoea is an understatement. He wants to talk constantly about his social life and to update me on all his girlfriend woes.

If this wasn’t bad enough, when he does actually focus on work matters, he has a tendency to speak over me at 100 miles per hour and I can’t seem to get an opportunity to speak.

When he does eventually take a breath, which is rare, I barely finish a sentence before he begins talking over me and confirming what he thinks the correct legal opinion is. I don’t mind trainees demonstrating their enthusiasm, but this person is just going too far.

Ash replies

I can understand your frustration, as this person clearly has an issue with listening. There is always an element of a young, inexperienced lawyer wanting to seem keen and eager to learn, but it does not seem as if you will be able to provide much guidance when he is clearly not being very receptive.

I do however think that you may be able to nip this in the bud if you confront him about it at an early stage. The trainee is probably unaware of how he is coming across, and perhaps believes that you will be impressed by his insight and knowledge.
To give him the benefit of the doubt, he probably thinks that you will expect him to have already researched specific areas of law and will want to demonstrate how much he knows without you having to spoon feed him.

However, it is important that you define the boundaries more clearly. Perhaps the next time he begins to talk about personal issues, you make it clear by interrupting him, no matter how hard this may be, and emphasising that you need him to finish a particular piece of work within a firm deadline. This should drum home the subtle message that he needs to focus on work issues.

With regard to work issues, I suggest that you outline a few ground rules at the beginning of any catch-up meetings by confirming that you will go first and then outlining the main work issues. If you are interrupted, you may want to use some subtle body language in order to regain control of the meeting, for example raising your hand slightly and raising your voice slightly to confirm that, although he may have a point, you would like to finish first.

Hopefully, these tips should assist in getting the message across to the trainee. However, if all else fails, there is always the fallback position of ear plugs!


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