Handy advice for the firm’s new entrants
You’ve gone through the law school slog, suffered the tribulations of the training contract and secured that lucrative position as a qualified solicitor. Finally, it’s time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of the past few years’ hard labour. Or is it?
Once you’re qualified, your position in a law firm feels much more certain. You are hopefully on a permanent contract, so it’s the end of the two-year job interview that trainees must go through. If all goes well, you could be in your new role indefinitely.
However, life as an NQ isn’t all plain sailing. There are still a number of pitfalls to watch out for and the difference between a good junior solicitor and a great one can be significant. Ease your transition by taking heed of our tips.
1. Be smart – but not a smart arse
You’re still the bottom of the pile, as far as the law firm hierarchy goes, and there’s every chance that your secretary knows as much about certain areas of law as you do. Of course, use your initiative and avoid asking dumb questions – but continue asking for help when you need it. Be aware of the limits of your knowledge and admit when you don’t know something, instead of making it up. In the long run, you will earn far more respect for admitting you need to go away and research an answer, rather than blagging it and getting it wrong.
2. Learn to delegate effectively
Make friends with your secretary and make use of trainees. As your workload increases (and it will), you will need them. Figure out how to get the best results: give clear instructions, set realistic deadlines – and be nice! Learning to delegate also means understanding when you need to just do something yourself. A partner who has trusted you with some important drafting work could be mightily peeved to find you’ve passed it on to that untested first seat trainee.
3. Network within the firm
It’s a horrible word, we know. However, the more people who know you, and what your capabilities are, the more work will come your way. Besides, it needn’t involve business cards and glad-handing. Join in-house sports teams, attend social events, eat in the canteen and talk to people in the lifts – just as long as you get your face known about the place.
4. Develop your legal interests
If there’s a particular area of law you’re fascinated by, exploit your own enthusiasm.
If your firm has experts in the area, get in touch and offer your assistance. It takes confidence to push yourself forward like this but chances are, that person will be flattered and willing to talk to you about it.
If your firm has no such experts, aim to become one. Volunteer to write articles or deliver training about your chosen niche. It’s a great feeling when someone rings you up, as a junior associate, because you know more than anyone else about a particular topic. This works particularly well with obscure or boring issues which other people have overlooked: be the geek.
5. Be organised
Win easy points with management by making sure you are administratively well organised. Keep on top of file management, have a tidy desk and meet internal deadlines for timesheets, billing, Lexcel forms and other non-chargeable headaches. This stuff won’t lead to promotion, but you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons if you don’t do it, so save yourself the hassle.
6. Sign up for Google alerts and other notifications
Google offers a service where they email you every time a news item appears online with a certain keyword in it. Similar notifications can be received through services such as LexisNexis or Westlaw.
Staying abreast of changes in your legal area in this way is pretty much a requirement for any solicitor, but if you’re smart you will use it to your advantage.
Sign up for alerts about key clients so you know what’s going on with their businesses, ready for that awkward pre-meeting small talk. Showing interest in their work will help cement that relationship you’re trying to build with them, demonstrating that you’re not solely interested in their ability to pay your fees.
You could also monitor niche legal topics which others may overlook in your department and offer to write briefing notes or deliver verbal updates to colleagues. Yes, it’s brown-nosing, but if you don’t do it someone else will.
Overall, be friendly, enthusiastic and reliable. It’s not rocket science and as long as you work hard and don’t act like a douche, you won’t go wrong. LM