Shaping our future lawyers

For the past few years, I have had the honour and privilege of supervising trainee solicitors whilst they are in their Property seat. What initially began as quite a daunting task has now become one of the most rewarding aspects of my job and professional life and in this article, I will explain why working with trainee solicitors is so important to me.

Firstly, we all know how difficult and arduous of a task it is to secure a training contract. Then, once you have one, you suddenly realise that legal practice and vocational training is at polar ends to learning the law in a lecture theatre or class room. Finally, once you are just getting to grips with almost being a lawyer, there is the uncertainty of whether you will be offered a position at the end of your training.

Some 13 years later, I still vividly remember these sentiments. My training contract, whilst being absolutely brilliant in terms of legal practice and broad exposure, was also a massive learning curve as to ‘how not to do things’, and ‘how not to treat trainees’. To this day, I will never forget that feeling of inferiority. So, when I qualified, I vowed that if I was ever given the privilege to train a trainee solicitor, or manage a team, I would do things very differently.

Property law, whether it be commercial or residential, is not glamorous. Leases, Official Copy Entries, plans, Asset Purchase Agreements, Rent Deposit Deeds and Easements are not exactly ‘edge of your seat’ legal aspects. We do not have cutting edge legal arguments. We do not prepare for litigation. We do not attend Court. So, what better way to engage a trainee solicitor in the property department than to involve them in the heart of a transaction from the outset?

I believe in keeping the trainees interested in the work, interested in the client, and interested in the outcome. I do not just want a trainee making mundane chase-up calls or photocopying. From a very early stage, I will give the trainee real legal work to be undertaken on active cases, starting with the easier work and, as they prove themselves, then they get the juicer work! It is vital that from day one they are made to feel like lawyers!

I also recognise the importance of an open-door policy. From my own experience, it was frowned upon if I disturbed the Partner. I have even been at a firm where Associates and Senior Associates had to make appointments with the Partners. That is definitely not how I work, and not how Crane & Staples works. Trainees must have the confidence to approach senior staff for guidance and this is something we encourage from day one.

As a Senior Associate in the Property Department at Crane & Staples, I take the training aspect of my job very seriously. I will always support my trainees. My role is to guide and nurture them to ensure they learn from every experience during their two years of training.

Many firms will have monthly or quarterly appraisals. Whilst I carry out monthly supervisions with my trainees, the open door policy means we are discussing files throughout the day. Effectively, every day is an appraisal. I have the added measure of regular ‘pop quizzes’ and research tasks. Many will be relevant, but some may be completely irrelevant and maybe even complete red herrings and they will all keep the trainee thinking!

Being a trainee solicitor is not an easy gig. It is stressful. You are suddenly in alien waters. I like to try and make it a little fun too. It is incredibly important to enjoy your work and that includes getting on with your colleagues. A happy work environment will make for a more productive and more receptive trainee. With my terrible sense of humour, ‘dad’ jokes, and the ‘Santa’ suit, I ensure that the trainees are still laughing!

So, that is how I like to treat a trainee solicitor, but what do I expect in return?

Hard work, be a sponge, be proactive – not reactive, communicate, be honest and proud to be part of a team. I also encourage reverse appraisals – I like trainees to tell me how I am doing and what I can do better.

Finally, coming back to why training has become a rewarding aspect of my professional life: Mentorship!

Outside of Crane & Staples, I still act as a mentor for two previous trainees who are now successful lawyers. Being a supervisor is not just about training, but about continued support and mentorship.

That is how we shape our future lawyers!