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29 June 2022

12 Tips for Trainee Lawyers

Kevin Rogers is a Partner at Wilson Browne Solicitors, a large regional practice in the Midlands, with over 20 years of experience in the legal sector. He is a public speaker, published legal commentator, Tier Two Legal 500 litigator and legal trainer. He is a Non-Executive Consultant to the Board of Directors of Law Training Centre and a valued member of the team.

His early days as a lawyer were in the sink-or-swim world of costs assessments and negotiations. He ran a team of cost lawyers from the late 90s and mentored his first trainee solicitor in 2001. Over 20 years later, he shares his experience with us in 12 tips for Trainee Lawyers.

1. Detail, detail, detail

“When a client sees you, they tell you the end of the story. They’ll start with the result they want to achieve, such as they want to sue someone for a set amount of money.

That’s nonsensical. You don’t go to a GP and demand a prescription without a diagnosis.

All lawyers need to get their client to slow down and start at the beginning. Is there a contract involved? What’s it about? Who agreed to what and when and how much for who? You had a meeting where someone agreed to something? What meeting, when? What can you remember?

Get the details down from your client before advising them.

A similar principle applies to document drafting – make sure you have a handle on everything, build the background to get where you are going.

You can help yourself get better at this – some things that help me are making lists and plotting out bigger components into smaller ones.

2. Stay Focused

If I could read a letter out to a person who isn’t a lawyer and they would understand the point of it on first reading, maybe not everything, but the gist, I’ve done a good job. On second reading, if they get it all, then I have done the job properly.

Don’t waffle on forever.

The same applies to the client you’re dealing with. Aim to get them to tell you their story succinctly. You have to discipline your client without them knowing, help guide them.

When you deliver your advice, don’t give them endless options, they’re not paying you for possibilities, but for sound advice. They want opinions, sometimes choices, but always advice. Stay focused on what the client needs.

3. Check. The. Documents.

Just in case a client has stretched the truth or mis-remembered an important detail, check the documents attached to your client’s case.

Did you ever see the T.V. show ‘House’, the lead consultant ALWAYS bangs on about getting a full history! Forever writing down a full patient history, nosing about in their home, seeing what really is in the medication cupboard…

People omit things, maybe not even deliberately so. For example, a client who is ready to buy a house, but it turns out their money comes from a parent. Perhaps the client didn’t believe it was an important detail, but this increases the steps that a lawyer needs to take to be ready to buy the house. It’s on you to check. Ask!

4. Pay attention to timelines

Remember how clients want to start at their end outcome? It’s on you to reel them back so they start at the beginning.

Dates and the chronology of the events that transpired that led to your client coming to you are important. So put those in order.

This doesn’t just work with client stories, but also works for documents, statements, letters of claims etc. The amount of time I spend unravelling information, it could be so much easier if we all tell the story in order.

5. I don’t want to hear the old-fashioned legal voice again.

If I can use simple words to explain complex things, then I have won. I want clients to say ‘Oh you made that clear for me…thank you for explaining that’

So as a training tool – if you hear me reading out a piece of work that you’ve done for me and I put on an old-timy voice – change it so it makes sense to a non-lawyer, it doesn’t have a place in client correspondence.

That’s not to say legalese isn’t useful, there are some cases where using lawyer talk is appropriate. But keep things as clear for your client as possible.

6. Put yourself in the Client’s place – they may be nervous

I must never forget that people are on edge seeing me. I am the expert. I know everything (which actually means that I know where to look or who to ask but they don’t need to know that all the time). I am here to put them at ease. I am the best person they could have ever wanted to see. If I cannot figure it out today I know how to figure it out so I will come back to you tomorrow.

If you’re advising clients, that’s you too.

You’ve got to believe in yourself and everything you’ve learned so far in your training. Put your nerves to the side because it’s not about you. It’s their life, their business, their issue.

And even if it’s your first time giving that advice, they don’t need to know that. You’re there to put them at ease and provide them a service.

What you do is immensely important but it’s their story and we’re here as a guide. It is their life, their business, their worry.

7. It’s okay to take the time to ‘do over’ or start again, evaluate, and go a different way

I am not afraid to admit that I am wrong. It is okay to start again. It is okay to change course. It is okay for the client to pay for this. I will not look back and I will not point the finger at history. I only care about what is in front of me. I only care about my advice being the best that it can be. There is no one else that could do a better job than me, even if I need time. I am not afraid to ask for that time.

Many young lawyers ask me ‘How long should this piece of work take?’.

I say, ‘it doesn’t matter – what’s the final product?’

Don’t beat yourself up for having to do something three times before you get it right. It doesn’t matter if another lawyer does it faster or slower than you – you’re training. Work on getting it right first. There is no pride in a draft, only in the finished product.

8. Assess & Prioritise – what must be done and what can wait until later?

It is okay to give people realistic timeframes.

It is not okay to miss them.

I will prioritise, and I will trust that I will get quicker

A colleague or client may say that they want something by the end of the week. I might have other priorities, which might need to be done first. In that case, I aim to manage their expectation properly. I set a more realistic date so then I won’t miss the deadline.

When you’re attempting to do the same, evaluate with these questions.

How long will this task take? Be realistic here and give yourself an appropriate timeline.

How important is this task vs the others I must see to? Make a list!

9. Passion

‘Bad days’ are allowed. Long term, don’t be grumpy about your job.

You are in this career because you wanted to be, just like I am! Many people want it. Many people do not get close. We have an amazing chance in front of us to help people and to have the career that thousands of people who hold the LPC, that don’t have a paralegal or trainee role are jealous of. Stay humble.

I will make the most of it. I want it.

Will you make the most of it? Do you want it?

If you’re stressed, ask for help. You’re still training.

10. Be work proud but don’t mistake that for arrogance

If you don’t take pride in your work, you lose your job.

Take pride in your work being the best it can be. But don’t assume being proud of your work is the same as never asking for help and seeking advice. What you deliver is what you should be proud of. You’ll actually be PROUDER of the finished product if you have sense-checked it and added the experience of others to it!

I don’t mind doing whatever I need to so I can deliver something great to a client. I’ll ask for help and seek input from colleagues.

11. Have fun

Don’t forget the big picture. You’re here on this planet for 10 minutes and you’re at work a lot of that brief time. No one ever said ‘I wished I had smiled less’. Decorum, and being appropriate is important, and so is smiling.

Deliver a platinum service with a smile on your face. Try to have a joke with your colleagues (within appropriate boundaries). Lawyers are perceived as dull, so be memorable. You will get more work and have a better time of it. A day in a job you love is not a day’s work at all.

12. Trust in yourself and your ability to be the best

Don’t ignore this final part.

Who’s the best lawyer you know? It’s got to be YOU. You can be the best lawyer you know if you TRUST in yourself.

Have faith in yourself that you’ll get better, that you’ll get faster and more confident. Aim to be the best lawyer you know.

You’ll get there by paying attention to the list above.

I should tell you that every one of these is a lesson learned and written down by a lawyer that I have trained. Take the list, use it, add to it… you’ve got this.”

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