Sébastien Flowerdew is a second year trainee solicitor at the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). Here, he explores the difficulties organisations face in supporting their trainee solicitors virtually.
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has radically changed the workplace and has potentially done so for the foreseeable future. As a significant number of employers have now successfully adapted to working from home, many of them have realised that perhaps their employees do not have to come into the office every day post-Covid.
What does this mean for trainee solicitors? How do employers support these individuals from their improvised home offices during a time which is already stressful and nerve-wracking? Below I will discuss my experience of the workplace during my mostly virtual traineeship as well as the experience of my fellow SSSC trainees and what employers can do to support their trainees to make or break their traineeships.
What we have lost
What I hear from many people is the loss of learning by osmosis that can happen in the office. It is inevitable that trainees pick things up from hearing senior colleagues discussing cases and interacting with clients or witnesses. Losing this will contribute to trainees feeling isolated and out of their depth. This is on top of the issue of how to integrate new starts into a workplace they have never been in with colleagues they have never met in person. This, coupled with the fact that trainee solicitors are in a new role with work they often have little experience of, makes supporting trainees virtually a true challenge.
What to do
However, I am pleased to report that us SSSC trainees have felt supported at work. So, what is the SSSC doing right? Managers here have been organising daily catch-ups within their teams to not only discuss work but just chat, often having supervision meetings with trainees once a week where they are encouraged to discuss any issues they are having at work. When our first year trainees started, our very own director took the time to introduce herself and get to know them. We recently had a staff conference where we hosted “coffee rooms” where all of the staff in the organisation could catch up and see the new faces.
All of this creates an atmosphere of being a team. Our trainees said that they never have a problem phoning someone to ask for help or ask a question. They would even phone someone they had not spoken to before because we are all on the same team. We have never felt alone. The answer to creating this atmosphere is simple. It requires time and engagement. One zoom call with the office staff for new trainee solicitors will not cut it. Managers need to be setting aside time to have ongoing meetings on a formal and informal basis If they want their trainees to feel supported.
What we can gain
Working from home does not just present a new challenge for organisations, but new opportunities too. One SSSC trainee stated that they would not have applied to work at the SSSC pre-Covid as it would have involved moving to Dundee. Because of Covid, organisations can have access to a wider range of candidates to help them pick the right person for the role. If they can successfully develop ways to integrate and support virtual trainees then not only will the legal profession survive the pressures of Covid on the workplace, but it will also come out as a more modern and effective workforce.