The Burges Salmon training contract: expectation vs reality

The media paints a varied picture of law firm life. I've come to realise it's wholly inaccurate and here's why.

20 June 2016

By trainee solicitor Premila Patel 

We all have different ideas of what life in a law firm is like. From the glamour of ‘Suits’ to the intense drama of ‘The Good Wife’, the media paints a varied picture of legal reality. A bleaker picture is painted by the ‘law student rumour mill’ with ever more extreme tales of woe. I’ve come to realise it’s all wholly inaccurate and here’s why.

1. Expectation: all I’d ever be doing was work…

When I started my first seat, I expected it to be all work and no play with the former taking centre stage and little time to get to know my colleagues.

Reality check: filing documents and potting plants – all in a day’s work!

In reality, when I arrived, I was greeted by friendly colleagues who understood the nerve-wracking nature of starting at a firm as a fresh-faced trainee.

During my first seat I spent time helping to organise the firm's fundraising activities which culminated in an evening event called 'Strictly Legal' where people from across the firm, including partners, trained to compete in a Strictly Come Dancing-style dance off.

Strictly come dancing competition

I have also rowed in a charity boat race, planted flower beds and picked potatoes for a local farm. It has all been great fun, showing a not-so-serious side to my colleagues. This has certainly helped to dispel the myth that all lawyers are boring!

2. Expectation: I’d be given little responsibility

Having had a couple of office jobs before starting at Burges Salmon, I had a fair idea of what office life entailed and thought that a training contract may have an element of 'back to basics', particularly in the first year.

Reality check: trainees are challenged, supported and trusted.

In my first seat, I was given tasks which kept me in my comfort zone while I found my feet. Responsibility increased seat by seat but my supervisor was always aware of the tasks that I was working on, ensuring that nothing was ever beyond me.

By my fifth seat, I was tasked with leading calls and trusted to manage the progress of various matters. The gradual increase in responsibility allied with support really captures Burges Salmon’s positive approach to trainee growth.

Burges Salmon also encourage trainees to get a broad range of experience in each seat so that they develop their skill-set across the board. This is a great way to build confidence and get to know different people in each team.

3. Expectation: I’d have minimal client contact

Before I started, I’d heard horror stories about trainees being stuck in windowless rooms for weeks, if not months on end, with very little time outside the office. I’d also heard stories of trainees labouring behind the scenes with no opportunity to see how client meetings were conducted or to interact with anyone outside the firm. I had no reason to think that Burges Salmon would be any different (!)

Trainee work

Reality check: from London to Lincoln and Watford to West Wales.

Although the training contract has its fair share of desk work, it has also involved me travelling across the UK. From client meetings, negotiations and tribunal hearings to document signings, conferences and networking events, I have definitely had the chance to experience law away from a computer screen. This has been invaluable in helping me understand the sorts of things I could expect in my future career and in providing a truly rounded training contract experience.

The verdict?

All in all, I've never been so pleased to be proved wrong!

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