Katie Wood, Head of Admissions, explains how she supports trainee solicitors on our confidential helpline – starting with nagging!
It’s fair to say that any traineeship will come with its share of trials and tribulations. Having a good support network in place is important to help you through these tough times, give a bit of perspective and, of course, celebrate successes.
Part of that support, available to every trainee, is the Law Society’s helpline run by yours truly. I am often asked about the type of calls I receive on the confidential helpline and of course I never divulge anything other than my usual mantra of “no problem is too big or too small, and I am completely unshockable”.
I have been encouraged by colleagues to write about the helpline, to help others understand what exactly the helpline is for, so here you are, my first ever online posting…
There are, I find, five sorts of caller: those who need nagging, those who need encouragement, those who need support, those who need advice, and those who need help. Overall though, and in every case, I am here to listen.
Or "caring out loud", as I like to call it at home. Generally, calls that come in that require a friendly nagging are from those who know what they should (or should not) be doing, and need a bit of a nudge to do it.
It might be that the trainee ought to have submitted a document, or that they are feeling disgruntled at having to cover reception while a colleague takes a break, or that they feel, frankly, a bit grumpy about something that really needn’t be a big issue, like being asked to stay in the office until 6pm. Generally they know that they need to get their head down and get a task done, or that while a traineeship is not about covering reception, they are probably a more appropriate person to cover than a fee-earning partner or that their minor gripe is just that. Talking it through with someone neutral, away from the situation, generally helps trainees to help themselves in these situations!
Trainees are often full of great ideas. Some phone me to tell me about them, and I encourage them to tell their supervisor – how else could this great idea be implemented?! Easy. More often, however, encouragement is needed because the trainee has lost a bit of confidence, or is about to appear in court for the first time, or needs to raise something a bit tricky with their supervisor such has having made a mistake. In these situations, I take time with the trainee to chat through the issue and to come up with a plan of action. I’m also available for follow-ups too, to dissect how a difficult conversation or experience has gone!
Sometimes, work is just rubbish. The boss talks to you in an abrupt way and criticises everything you do, or ignores you for their favourite employee, or you have something going on outwith work which is messing with your happiness. It happens to us all at one time or another.
Trainees phone when they need to talk about something they are finding tough and I try to help them to evaluate whether they have a legitimate concern (see nagging, above) before coming up with a way to make some changes that are within their control which will hopefully improve their situation. Even if it is a case of letting the supervising solicitor or HR know how the trainee is feeling - which, I know, is not an easy conversation to have, but seems to help in most circumstances.
The practical advice I offer is about techniques for dealing with the occasional issues that arise – how to prepare for a quarterly performance review, or a particular situation perhaps.
I can offer help with preparing for a meeting, choice of language, tone and content to help trainees prepare for and get the most out of different situations. Or perhaps the trainee needs some career support about assigning their contract, about something they are being asked to do at work like move cities during their traineeship, or with finding an NQ position (we have an excellent online resource to help with this too, created by one of my lovely colleagues).
My colleagues in Professional Practice help with the ethical and rule-based questions which come in from trainees.
Bluntly, sometimes traineeships go wrong and the Society has to step in – and this is something that we take seriously. The Admission as Solicitor (Scotland) Regulations 2011 give us powers to intervene in training contracts.
Occasionally, an informal phone call or email from the Society to HR or the supervising solicitor is enough to resolve an issue. Sometimes, regrettably, a trainee calls who is in absolute dire straits and we have to use the powers to help. I can terminate a training contract too, if both parties feel it is appropriate.
And sometimes, the Admissions Sub Committee and I swing into action and will carry out a more formal investigation into matters. This could result in the Society intervening and terminating or assigning a traineeship, but we also have powers to make conduct complaints against particular solicitors if they are found to have been acting inappropriately, or we can prevent firms from taking trainees if the committee feels that is the best course of action. I should stress that these are powers we use relatively rarely.
The trainee helpline is confidential, honest and, I hope, a constructive and helpful source of advice and support. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing an issue during a traineeship – no matter how big or small – please do get in touch. I am absolutely here to help. And I am completely unshockable.
Katie Wood can be contacted in confidence via email firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone 0131 476 8162