13 April 2021

By trainee Harrison Folland 

Ask any lawyer why they joined the profession and you’ll be met with a whole host of responses. Some might reply that they wanted to become trusted business advisors to their clients and foster long-term business relationships, others may say it was the allure of mastering a complex and ever-evolving specialism that drew them in. Some may even be honest and say it was for the money. What no one will say, however, is that they became a lawyer because it’s easy.

Being a trainee is particularly hard. You spend the first couple of weeks in a seat desperately trying to figure out what on earth is going on, the next couple of months trying to convince your colleagues that you’re semi-competent and then just as you get comfortable it’s time to start a new seat.

Mistakes will be made along the way, it’s part and parcel of being a trainee and frankly one of the best ways to learn. I’ve compiled some of the most common ones that (most) trainees make (and that I have certainly made) and how they can be avoided.

1. The Typo

The bane of every trainee’s (and lawyer’s) existence. You spend hours crafting the perfect email, advice note, or letter and hit send, only to spot a misspelt or missing word. It’s a cruel twist of fate that they seem infinitely more obvious when they’re in your outbox and released to the world. Unfortunately, it’s a sure-fire way to chip away at your credibility – no matter how sound and how well written your advice is.

Best mitigation strategy: have a colleague read things over. If that’s not practical, double and triple check before hitting send. It’s worth taking 5 extra minutes over, trust me.

2.The Incorrect Attachment

Less annoying than the typo but potentially more damaging, attaching the wrong document to an email is an easy mistake to make (particularly if you’re not completely familiar with the document you’re being asked to send). Best case scenario, you send a follow up email attaching the correct document. Worst case scenario, you disclose confidential client information to someone that isn’t supposed to see it and you have to ask them nicely to delete it.

Best mitigation strategy: if you’re not sure, ask! Even if you are sure, open the document you’ve attached to the email before hitting send to be absolutely sure it’s the correct version.

3. The Dodgy Instructions

Fact – some lawyers are naturally gifted delegators. Others are not. There will be times during your training contract when you take a briefing from a lawyer and come away knowing less than when you went into it.

If you find yourself in this situation, do not press on regardless. You will waste time (and the client’s money) doing a piece of work that isn’t what was envisaged by the instructing solicitor. Knock on their door (or, in the COVID world, call them on Teams) and ask questions until you know what you need to do. Even better, repeat the briefing back to them so that they know you’ve captured the objective and know what you need to do. This will inspire confidence and will make people think you’re on top of things, even if (secretly) you’re still figuring it out.

Best mitigation strategy: run through the agreed objectives and output in real time with the instructing solicitor. You can even send a follow-up email.

4. The Home Working Faux-Pas

Working from home can be great. There’s additional time in bed, money saved on commuting and no need to put on a suit every day.

It can, however, lead to very embarrassing moments and serious reputational damage.

If you’re going to work in your pyjamas, make sure there are no reflective surfaces behind or around you that could give the game away. If eating lunch during a meeting or training session, use of the mute button is crucial, for yours and your colleagues’ sake. On the topic of the mute button, be very, very careful about what you say when you think you’re on mute – it has a nasty habit of turning itself off. Training sessions become extremely awkward if someone on the call loudly exclaims how boring it is.

Best mitigation strategy: always assume you’re not on mute.

5. Not believing in yourself

Ultimately, making mistakes is part of being a trainee. Learning from them and trying not to make the same mistakes repeatedly will help you to succeed during your training contract. If you believe in your own ability, others will too.

The best way to deal with any mistake you make is owning it, making someone more senior aware of it, and proposing a strategy to fix it. The great thing about this job is that lives are never at risk and no mistake you make as a trainee will ever be un-fixable.

No one likes getting things wrong, but what I’ve learned from working at Burges Salmon is that people are much more interested in helping you fix them than they are making you feel bad for making them in the first place. Everyone has been a trainee at some point!

Key contact

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Penny Bowring Resourcing Specialist

Legal Resourcing

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