Charlotte Edgar, a second year trainee solicitor at Brodies LLP, is interested in raising awareness of mental wellbeing amongst new lawyers. She discusses the importance of building a supportive network at the beginning of your career.
In our last class of the semester, just before our final exams in fourth year, my conveyancing professor had some wise words for us. He said that we should all keep in touch with each other, because the Scottish legal profession is a small world, and we would most likely see each other again. “Yeah right” I had thought at the time, imagining us all going our separate ways. How wrong I was!
After reading Olivia Parker’s blog last month, I was reflecting on the different challenges (and potential stress) that new lawyers face, whether it’s studying for the degree, starting the traineeship, finding a newly qualified job or establishing yourself as a lawyer within your team and workplace. One of the things that strikes me, as I progress into the second year of my traineeship, is how much I have relied on my informal support network of other law students, fellow trainees and other lawyers in the profession.
Support from those in the same boat
My message for this month’s wellbeing blog is that often a great and easy ways to get support for what you are experiencing is from the people who are in the same boat as you, or who have been there before. What I have said may sound obvious, but starting work or a new job can feel like quite an isolating experience.
That’s why it is really important to keep in touch with people you know. For me, that is friends who work at other law firms. You can share experiences (maybe the occasional horror story!), talk through things with someone who may have a different perspective, give advice and learn about the legal profession and the world of work at the same time. I try and meet up with my university friends at least once every few months to find out how their traineeships are going and what they are doing next.
...building a support network is one of the best things a new lawyer can do for their mental wellbeing now and in the future.
I hesitate to call this ‘networking’ as people sometimes attach negative connotations to this word. But building a support network is one of the best things a new lawyer can do for their mental wellbeing now and in the future. It felt daunting for me to study the diploma at a different university from where I studied my degree, but in doing so, I now have a much wider network of friends and contacts than I did before.
Working with rather than against the other party
When I was appearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court the first time for a small claims hearing, it reassured me to see a few familiar faces from the diploma. I was acting for the defender and one of my friends turned out to be representing the pursuer, so it was great to be working with someone I knew. We discussed the case beforehand, and when we stood up to address the sheriff, it felt like we were in it together.
I will always make the effort to speak to people I know (and occasionally, those I don’t) to say hello and find out how they are getting on. Competitiveness can serve athletes well when they strive to win a medal in the Olympic Games, but I find this trait is much less constructive in the context of the legal profession. Rather than keep your cards close to your chest, be interested in others, share your experiences and support them. Further down the line, they may be the person supporting you.
All the best lawyers I have ever witnessed or worked with have one thing in common: they are all interested in people. They will take the time to find out about you. Learning these skills now and creating your own network of contacts will be invaluable in future when you become more senior and are expected to engage in business development.
So, here are some suggestions…
If you think that you don’t really know that many people, have lost touch with those you do know or don’t know where to start, there are a great variety of events and initiatives you can get involved in. For example, the CPD for New Lawyers events run by the Law Society are a great way to increase your knowledge and meet new people. As a student I attended an event on Court of Session procedures and I was very impressed with and inspired by the advocate who presented the seminar.
If CPD all sounds like hard work, remember that the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association (SYLA) run many social events each year, including the SYLA ball, summer BBQ and champagne ceilidh. I really enjoyed the SYLA ball earlier this year as it felt like a big reunion with all my friends from university. With everyone gathered together it was a great chance to catch up with those I had not seen in a while and share stories. I felt a true sense of community, combined with excitement for the future.
Hopefully this piece has inspired you to get out there, make new connections and discuss your ideas and experiences. One of the current aims of the Law Society and the newly-created Legal Wellbeing Scotland group is to raise awareness of mental wellbeing within the profession. Don’t be afraid to speak up and support others, because chances are someone else will have been thinking, feeling or experiencing the same thing as you.
My final words, as I think about all the discussions I have had with fellow trainees and friends over the past year of my traineeship, is this: Even if you think you are struggling at any point, you are actually doing really well. You will get through whatever problems you are facing and emerge stronger (with a little help from your friends).
Give yourself a break if you are pushing yourself too hard. Whatever stage you are at in your career, take stock and recognise how far you have come. Think about how much more you know, or how much more you have achieved since last year, or six or three months ago.
If you’re interested in writing a blog about wellbeing for new lawyers or have any content suggestions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Youc an also join the conversation on this important topic in our LinkedIn group.