The day you shouldn’t expect when starting at a law firm – or should you?

The sort of day you shouldn’t expect when starting at a law firm – or should you?

Working for the first time at a law firm – or thinking of doing so? Your daily routine may not shape up quite as below. Well, perhaps in some aspects…

9.00 am to 9.30 am

My day does not start with a seminar on “alms-giving: the true path of practice management” by two partners from our accountancy clients, Philanthropy, Transcendence & Idyll. In truth, the senior partner wants me to read the new note on billable work.

9.30 am to 11.00 am

What now occurs does not depend upon how much time my line manager can spare, the vagaries of our clients’ lives, our business plan and the pattern formed by the broken teabag in my cup. Oh, I guess it does then – especially the tea leaves. Although, truthfully, the few flakes of oolong-flavoured foliage staring at me are just a temporary distraction. Within no time, I’m nose-deep in helping to draft an exchange offer for the sale of debt.
My task is to help explain the mechanics of the transaction – and to try and help free up my line manager so they can spend more time with people, although not necessarily more time with me. Next week, I’ll spend one week in a legal aid centre to help me meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requirements for contentious work. They’re short on petty cash at the centre – so I expect they’ll be steeped in builder’s brew instead of oolong.

11.00 am to 1.00 pm

Ha! My time-poor supervisor who finally draws breath to say my name has had time this morning to grow extra-long horns on their head. I’m thrown a copy of a report by the scurrilous “student” law magazine LEGAL NAUGHTY which states that 85% of trainee solicitors lack skills in resilience and business acumen. “That’s you,” my supervisor glares. “You’re a young, commercial dodo. Go to that room they call Human Resources and ask for solitary confinement!”
As if to reinforce his point, he sticks a post-IT note from a senior partner on my head upon which is written: “Pet peeve: trainees who can’t use subjunctive verb forms” signed “Mr Grump”. Goodbye to my vision of a collegiate, open-plan office to work in.
In truth, none of the above really happened… my supervisor is a busy, sometimes stressed but decent soul who deserves my recognition as well as my questions if I need to clarify a task. I remember to treat my line manager as what HR and marketing people call an internal client. I make myself clear, but I’m polite, professional and supportive. That goes down well.
Of course, very little of this time slot involves me musing upon how I’m managed. In fact, I meet a client and counsel at Court for a financial dispute resolution hearing. This is my first proper encounter with a Court-room environment (outside of mock-trials). I am briefed to be aware that this is a potentially life-changing event for our client. I approach that client with empathy.

1.00 pm to 1.45 pm

I take a 30-minute power walk in the city centre park followed by a seaweed smoothie… but I have a sandwich and a natter with Afrah. She’s my appointed buddy at the firm. In her second year at the firm, talks like there’s no tomorrow, but she’s an excellent listener. There are days when I don’t get a lunch break.

1.45 pm to 3.00 pm

“I’m sorry about this morning,” says my supervisor. “Let’s bust a few myths about being a legal trainee. Let’s start with the idea that you’re on the side of the angels.” The list of busted myth continues with the following:
  • You’ll soon be giving clients legal advice. Not true at large firms but can be truer at smaller firms under supervision.
  • Your day will be one of endless routine administrative task. This is also not true. I’ve been hired to do commercially important work. Although there is routine, most of my tasks require some cognitive power and organisational skills. Some of the document management and scheduling has been automated, but there my competencies in IT come in handy.
  • Does the above happen just after lunch in my typical day at a law firm? Not in literally as described – but in practice, it’s true that I’m not yet experienced enough to carry the can in terms of advice-giving but neither am I a drudge chained to a photocopying machine. I work for a good firm in which my (albeit time-poor) supervisor makes an effort to explain things and to delegate properly.
    Being delegated to is what happens this part of the afternoon. I type up attendance notes I’d taken at trial. I write them up for the file and discuss them with my supervisor. The deadline was for doing this was tight.

    3.00 pm to… end of the working day

    I use no writing-trickery with this end section of my diary. Truthfully, sometimes I work past 6.00 pm as a trainee. It depends upon my firm, its clients, its practice areas. But the rest of my day is good and comprises of arranging meetings, calling clients, preparing case notes and research.

    It’s the latter activity that really ticks the box for me. I am asked to write a memo summarising what a legal point on a given issue is likely to be. I am asked to do this because – as of now – no one knows what the answer might be. Now sorting that out is satisfying.

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