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The learning curve

14 February 11

First of a new series aimed at helping trainees climb the learning curve and, hopefully, the career ladder: on the importance of being organised, and of paying attention to detail

by Ritchie Whyte

Lots to learn and lots to prove; that just about sums up the excitement and anticipation of the first day of a traineeship.

Two short years in which to hone your skills and soak up as much knowledge and experience as you can, with an eye firmly set on the goal of qualifying as an employable young professional, ready to embark on a legal career in earnest.

It is widely acknowledged that the transition from full time education to a high-pressure, high-stakes professional environment can take a little time. Only once you are at the coalface do you fully appreciate the importance of some of the core practical skills that will underpin your future in the profession.

These brief pointers are born of personal experience encountered both as a trainee and a trainer, so I hope that they strike a chord and offer some useful hints.

On top of the job

You can be talented, hardworking and genuinely committed to the cause, but if you are not well organised then you will be battling against the tide every day. Unless you plan your time effectively, you will spend your day “firefighting” rather than dealing with tasks methodically, and this will inevitably impact on the quality of your work.

Being disorganised means you will miss deadlines, upset clients and colleagues and generally put yourself under all sorts of unnecessary pressure. In my experience, it is often this particular learning curve that trainees find most taxing during the early part of their training.

I suppose that, when stripped back, being organised is really just the ability to look ahead and prepare accordingly. Taking some time to plan and prepare properly for the day, the week or the month ahead is essential and will help you use your time effectively. Think carefully about your workload and be realistic; you must allow some time for the unexpected as you should know by now that something unexpected will always crop up!

Being organised gives you a much better chance of getting a good result. There is no doubt that those who are well organised benefit from an added confidence and conviction in their actions, which is impressive to both colleagues and clients alike. Put simply but aptly, if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.

A proper look

Attention to detail is crucial because, in the legal profession in particular, mistakes can be costly. It goes without saying that typos and other careless errors are bad news – at best they are unprofessional; at worst they could have serious consequences as to the meaning or enforceability of a document.

When drafting or reviewing documents or taking instructions, the devil is often in the detail, so always pay close attention and be alert to that nuance or quirk that may change the position entirely. In particular, be careful not to drop your guard and let your concentration tail off as you encounter what you consider to be familiar territory.

Never act on an instruction or issue a piece of work without comprehensively reviewing it and checking it first. Be prepared to put something to one side and go back to it to review and check; a fresh eye will spot things that a tired one will miss. Sometimes there can be many parts to a task, some of which can be easily overlooked, so take detailed and accurate notes where appropriate and then check these off as you action the relevant points. Your notes can often save the day when your memory fails you!Ultimately, you should always be prepared to stand behind your work as your best effort and justify it, if necessary. Set the bar high and then strive to get there and beyond every day.

Ritchie Whyte is Training Partner with Aberdein Considine & Co
t: 01224 589 700 w: www.acandco.com

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