Ash's advice column is consulted by a trainee who feels they are not being given enough responsibility
I am five months into my training contract and have been left rather disillusioned with the type of work I have so far been given. I am in the commercial property department but most of my time has been taken up with just photocopying plans and documents or finding document styles for leases. I don’t think I’m learning much law in the process and I’m beginning to wonder whether I want to do law at all if this is the type of work I am expected to do for the duration of my traineeship!
I hope you would not decide to give up on your legal career at such a premature stage. Most trainees have to endure the pitfalls of being the most junior member of a team and consequently have to start at the bottom rung of the ladder when it comes to distributing tasks.
However, although a certain degree of flexibility inevitably has to be conceded during a traineeship, especially in the early days, this does not mean that the level of exposure to quality legal work should be completely non-existent.
There are a number of options available to you in order to ensure that you gain the most out of your time in the department. If you are asked to photocopy documents and plans, it may be worthwhile trying to source the background to the transaction by examining them and then enquiring more about the detail of the transaction from the person setting the task. This will help to highlight your eagerness to learn and may make carrying out the tasks seem somewhat less mundane.
You could also query whether you could sit in in the next contractual meeting in order to gain a better understanding of the basics of the transaction. You could present this as being an effective method of improving your knowledge and understanding, and thus eventually allowing more tasks to be delegated to you.
If it is not possible for you to attend such meetings, you could still use your time more productively by reading up on the subject and perhaps looking at previous similar transactions as well as relevant articles. This could assist you in preparing a basic checklist of legal issues which you feel you require to cover in order to gain most from your time in the department. You could then use this as an outline for discussion with your elected buddy in the department, or head of department if you do not have such a buddy.
In short, try to help yourself as much as you can through these steps.
Moreover, if your traineeship allows for you to move around various departments in the firm by rotation, remember that a poor experience in one department may not necessarily be mirrored in another. However, even if you work in a more compact environment with little scope for moving departments, the steps suggested above could still be applicable.
If in a few months’ time you are still getting little exposure to quality legal work, it may be worth raising this in your appraisal. Remember though that one person’s idea of quality legal work may differ from another’s. As a trainee it is sometimes worthwhile just getting familiar with the basics of a particular type of work before you tackle more detailed aspects. It may be useful to speak to other junior members of the team to find out what type of work they had to do when they first joined, and compare this with your own situation. If you would like a more objective insight into your situation, you could contact the Society on a confidential basis.
The more experience you gain in your traineeship, the more confidence you will eventually exude and this may in itself encourage your employer to give you a higher level of responsibility. As the saying goes, the person who has confidence in themselves, gains the confidence of others.
“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 .