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Ask Ash

19 January 09

A new advice column with, this month, some suggestions for a trainee with a difficult boss

Dear Ash,

I am currently in the second year of my traineeship and have recently moved into a new department. However, the head of the department seems to have taken an instant dislike to me. He normally chooses to ignore me and on occasion when I happen to ask him a question he is quite short with me. I am worried as he seems to be pleasant to the other solicitors in the department.

Ash replies:

Sadly there are a few individuals who choose sometimes not to treat trainees as well as other members of staff, perhaps as a result of having not been treated well during their own traineeships, or due to wrongly assuming that it is expected behaviour in a hierarchical system. Therefore do take comfort from the fact that – unfortunately – you are not alone, and support is available.

Rather than suffering in silence, you should try to be proactive in tackling the situation. First, you could request a meeting with the head of department (“HoD”) on the premise that you wish to discuss ways to gain most benefit from your time in the department. At this meeting you could highlight some of your strengths and explain more about yourself and the type of person you are – take time to think about this beforehand and arm yourself with some notes so you don’t forget what you want to raise even if you are feeling nervous. You could also ask for a constructive critique on the work you have undertaken so far and explain that you are eager to learn and improve. The meeting might be a good forum for the HoD to express any concerns or issues which have resulted in his ignoring you, and may let him get to know you better as a person, all of which may help to resolve any issues.

If you want to feel more involved, you could find out who normally organises social functions within the department and offer your assistance with the next departmental lunch or out-of-office drinks. This would help to show your enthusiasm and also perhaps create an opportunity to interact with the HoD and, importantly, other colleagues. By interacting socially you may improve your situation, first by perhaps gaining an insight from your colleagues as to how the HoD initially interacted with them, and also by forming friendships and allegiances within the department, allowing you to fall back on colleagues where the HoD retains his distance.

If you find that the situation deteriorates or becomes intolerable you could approach the HR department for guidance. HR departments vary from firm to firm or organisation but many have someone dedicated to helping trainees. Even if this isn’t the case, HR can play an indirect role in trying to resolve a situation, e.g. by raising general awareness about the treatment of trainees in the firm. Some firms also have an appointed training partner and it may be worthwhile speaking to him/her on a confidential basis as he/she may be able to exert some influence and thus help to improve the situation without recourse to formal action against the particular person.

The Law Society of Scotland also has an education and training manager dedicated to helping trainees with difficulties or facing particular issues during their traineeship, who is available to help talk through your situation and can get involved in mediating if necessary.

Even if taking the suggested steps does not melt away any of your boss’s present coldness, you will at least instil a confidence in yourself which will prove invaluable when dealing with difficult people in the future, as experience dictates that they are as inevitable in this world as death and taxes!

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk . Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Education and Training Department. For one-to-one advice contact Education and Training Manager Katie Meanley on 0131 476 8105/8200, or KatieMeanley@lawscot.org.uk

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