Happy New Year to all of our readers and followers. Our first blog of 2017 is written by first year trainee Mary Sargent.
When I received my training contract offer from Taylor Vinters in the summer of 2014, I was over the moon, and when, a week later, I received another call from them, offering me a job as a paralegal in the Commercial Real Estate team, I was even more so!
Fresh out of university and law school, I was feeling pretty good about life – I’d got a decent degree, aced the LPC and landed myself an elusive training contract at the firm I wanted and I was ready to become a real life lawyer.
However, none of that prepared me for how different practice is to academia. Everything was new, and even those things that had been touched on at law school felt completely different now that actual clients were involved.
The Commercial Real Estate team were fantastic and I loved working with such a friendly and approachable group of people. Everyone was always willing to answer questions, offer help and brainstorm ideas which definitely helped to ensure that my knowledge and confidence continued to increase rapidly.
It took about 4 months before I felt like I was getting my head around things, and then one day, it all just seemed to click and I looked back on the last few months and finally realised how far I’d come – from initially dealing with administrative tasks to running my own files with daily client contact and increasing levels of complexity.
And then it was time to change. Two years had flown by and it was time for me to leave my comfort zone and become a trainee in the Corporate team, in a job where I didn’t know what I was doing or how I was doing. I worried that Commercial Real Estate was the only thing I could do and understand. Would having been a paralegal within the firm help? Would it place expectations on me that I couldn’t live up to?
However, I was no longer being assessed as a paralegal, but as a trainee completing their training contract – the point of which is to learn, at a pretty intense rate, and develop into a well-rounded lawyer, even if that means making mistakes along the way (although not too many hopefully!).
Being a paralegal most certainly helped – I knew the systems, the people, the culture, and most importantly, I knew how it felt to be lost, confused and in completely over your head! Remembering back to how I felt during the first few months of being a paralegal, I knew that this was normal, not that I was useless, and that I would come out the other side knowing so much more than I ever thought I would, which was an enormous confidence boost.
The Corporate team are also great and they really value the importance of giving trainees quality training, encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone and tackle complex tasks early on, whilst simultaneously offering you support and assurance whenever needed.
This all made managing matters a lot more manageable. Furthermore, whilst the law was new, the type of thinking around it was the same: being commercial, being innovative, considering options and solving problems – I just didn’t know as many of the answers!
After two years in Commercial Real Estate, I was used to knowing what I was doing, and had developed the ability to reach conclusions quite quickly based on knowledge which I had built up. As a trainee, to encourage as much learning as possible, my answers are constantly challenged and that high-school phrase of ‘showing your workings’ should always be in the back of my mind. As a paralegal, I developed much more at my own pace, whereas the limited length of a seat as a trainee, and the purpose of a training contract mean that learning has to be much more ‘fast-tracked’. I therefore often have to remember to really focus on making sure I understand how I reached a conclusion, as I may be put on the spot and questioned on it. Having a well thought out idea, albeit incorrect, is always better than having none at all!
Aside from knowledge base, there were other challenges to overcome and adapt to. I had spent two years being supervised by the same solicitor, who had trained me to think, write and act in the way she did. I had spent months tailoring the style of my emails to reduce the amount of red pen, adopting language I knew would only be added if I didn’t use it to begin with! However, under the supervision of someone else, as part of a different team, where styles are different, I needed to reign back and be more direct (no more “please could you kindly”!).
Another major difference had been in the nature of my workload. As a paralegal, my to-do list was more of an on-going list of work in progress. As I had my own files, which I saw through from beginning to end, I had a good idea of how busy I would be on a more long term basis, and having no one to delegate to meant that my work was my own and I dealt with every part of the transaction on a linear basis. As a trainee, you are much more of a resource to be used by the team as a whole. Prioritisation and time management become paramount. On some days, my to-do list is compiled in the morning, consisting of numerous different tasks, for different fee-earners, on a variety of transactions on which I may never work on again, all which need to be dealt with that day.
My 6 months in Corporate will be over in a few short weeks and then it will be time to start over again. However, I now know from experience that it gets easier each time, and that it’s okay to be confused as a training contract is all one giant, exhilarating, learning curve!