Letitia Longworth is one of our trainee bloggers from Brodies LLP. Originally from York, Letitia obtained her first degree in English from the University of St Andrews and her graduate LLB and Diploma from the University of Edinburgh. She is now six months into her second seat with the Personal & Family department.
Five things I wish I'd known on day one
1. Be yourself...once you're settled in
In September's trainee blog, John Morgan counselled against the the use of wisecracks as a means of diffusing nerves. I'd second this, particularly in the early stages, as you need to show, first and foremost, that you're a safe pair of hands and you want to learn. Having said that, the importance of being yourself once you're settled in a team cannot be overstated.
At Brodies, we spend eight months in each of our three seats; at other firms you might do more placements and they'll be shorter. The point is, you have a finite opportunity each time you move not only to prove your mettle as a lawyer, but also to gel with your team as a person. While being in 'best behaviour' mode is a good thing when it comes to work, you can still allow yourself to relax and find common ground with your colleagues. We're all human after all!
2. It's not all about drafting
Some seats will be more hands-on and client-facing than others. If you find yourself in a department where your work is more focused on commercial questions and co-ordinating transactions - don't panic.
Your traineeship is as much about learning how to communicate, being efficient and delivering under pressure as it is about your legal education. Just because you're doing less drafting than you'd like, it doesn't mean that you're not developing. Though on the other hand...
3. Ask about getting involved elsewhere
If there's something specific that you want to get involved with - ask! Whether it's going out to a client meeting, joining and taking notes on a weekly call or drafting a particular document, taking some control over the direction of your seat can provide a big confidence boost. It helps to signal to fee-earners where your interests lie, too. Most of your work will be dictated by the needs of the business, but if you've set out your stall in terms of your long-term aims, you're more likely to find that people think of you when opportunities crop up.
4. Remember, you're not being tested
It took me a while to understand that I was not expected to know how to do everything immediately. The traineeship is not a test! If you say 'I haven't done this before' the fee-earner you're working with will know how to pitch their brief. You're here to learn, and learning will involve asking questions - lots of them.
5. Keep notes and your 'to-do' list separate
And finally, a housekeeping point: on my arrival in Personal & Family, I was given a notepad entitled 'Things To Do Today'. If you find yourself in a particularly busy team, you'll need a means of separating your distilled task list from your background notes and learning. You might be an asterisk or highlighting virtuoso, but once the work really takes off, recording instructions quickly and accurately will be crucial. Make life easy for yourself and keep your notes and to-do list physically distinct from the start.
Above all, remember that you've achieved a huge amount to get to where your are, so enjoy it!