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City lawyers - I am about to become one of you. Please advise me!

(170 Posts)
InGloriousTechnicolor Thu 25-Jul-13 16:33:28

I've just finished the LPC and am about to start my training contract at a commercial firm in the City (think top 25 but not Magic Circle). It would be great to get some advice from City lawyers, especially women, as I don't have any lawyer friends to ask about this stuff.

Basically, if you could go back in time and advise your trainee self, what would you say? (although please don't say 'Run like the wind' because I've signed a contract and it's too late for that!)

InGloriousTechnicolor Wed 31-Jul-13 12:17:04

Gosh, I am very excited to have started a thread that is now a 'mumsnet classic' - thanks!

Xiao - what sort of start-up did you join?

tulipsgirl77 Tue 30-Jul-13 20:59:07

Yes Thurlow, it's THE worst crime a trainee can make as far as librarians are concerned.

I work for a mid-size law firm on the south coast having started in the City. You?

anyway back to the advice from a librarian's point of view: I always rate trainees by whether they say thank you. My team get through tons of work often working to v tight deadlines, a simple thank you is always appreciated. At my place we also have a secret "favourite trainees" and "annoying trainees" list - yes a bit naughty, but you know librarians don't get out much!!

Also PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE pay attention to your legal research induction training. Please don't sit there looking disinterested and bored and then come and ask stupid questions two weeks later when you realise you should have listened.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Tue 30-Jul-13 20:55:55

<snort> Many a trainee has handed me repealed/since amended legislation thanks to Google.

Thurlow Tue 30-Jul-13 20:38:50

Tulips - oh, god, the words to strike fear into any law librarians heart! "I know you spend £00000's a year on databases, but I couldn't be arsed to do anything but Google - and what do you mean I'm actually quoting Danish matrimonial law?"

Now trying to work out if I know you, small circles and that!

tulipsgirl77 Tue 30-Jul-13 20:19:06

Haha Thurlow, I think we do the same job! Yes never underestimate the law librarian, we really can be very useful to as long as you don't tell us how to do the legal research you have requested ;-) also please NEVER EVER say "yes I found that piece of legislation by Googling it".

tory79 Tue 30-Jul-13 20:08:09

Do not leak confidential internal emails to Roll on Friday!!

Mandy21 Tue 30-Jul-13 19:32:29

I'm not at a MC firm, but am now 12yrs PQE in a top regional firm, and have a sister on the partnership track at a MC firm.

Just to reiterate what everyone else has said really - mistakes are acceptable, provided its not the same mistake twice. If you don't learn from your mistakes, that will go against you. Seek advice as soon as you realise you've made a mistake so it doesn't become a crisis.

Attention to detail - will really make a difference. Take notes of your instructions, check at the outset if you don't understand what you've been asked to do.

Asking questions - don't go to your solicitor / partner with a question that you don't know the answer to without having looked at trying to answer it - i.e. demonstrate that you've done some research, looked into recent authorities etc so you can show that you've at least tried.

Get on with everybody - the doorman, the secretary, the PSL, the copy room. You never know when you might need them. Be professional at all times.

Don't ar$elick - you'll make yourself unpopular and when your team is asked for their comments, no-one will be complementary if you've only made an effort with the partners.

And think carefully about the long term plans you have - law is quite odd in that although there is a HR team etc, the decision making is done by the partners / heads of team etc who are generally not management trained. Partners etc have made partner because they're very good at law, not necessarily at team management. So whilst things are changing, MC partners are still (sweeping generalisation) middle aged men. You will have to work twice as hard / give up important events sell your soul to be very successful. I do agree, even in the regions, that long periods of maternity leave, or 2 periods quite close together, or any PT working are generally fatal to making partnership. Of course there are exceptions to that, but that certainly my experience.

If you are prepared to do that, fine, choose your specialism carefully and make sure your DP (and children if necessary) are on board with that too.

If that's not your long term plan, than take everything you can out of the opportunity from a learning / client contact / development point of view, save financially as you'll probably have to take a pay cut if you leave the City.

Good luck!

Wearytiger Tue 30-Jul-13 14:26:37

thurlow my DH says that the know how lead in his (magic circle) firm is a legal genius. It's very rare to hear him compliment anyone at all so I think you're giving some very sound advice there!

Thurlow Tue 30-Jul-13 14:21:13

Remember that the other professionals in the firm - business development, know-how, librarians - are also professionals, and are not just as qualified as you, but far more experienced. Do not under any circumstances think that as a 1st year trainee you know more about doing research than the librarian does grin (Can anyone guess what I do?!)

Seriously, though - I've seen loads of trainees over the years who seem to think that librarians etc are either failed lawyers or idiots who couldn't become a lawyer, not experienced professionals in their own right. As a lawyer, your job will be so much easier if you use the BD, know-how and library etc teams to support you, and if you pay attention to all the training offered by them during your TC.

Xiaoxiong Tue 30-Jul-13 14:09:30

I have something a bit more off-beat to add, sort of hinted at by beyondthepale, lisanthus and FreeButtonBee.

I found that the skills that get you promoted in the earlier years in a big City firm are not necessarily the ones that you need later on to make partner. I loved doing business development, presentations, pitches, networking, getting involved in deals, and clients loved me when I was sent on secondment and was actually allowed some contact with them. I was told repeatedly that my client engagement, business sense and legal knowledge were fantastic but that in the main, client contact was reserved for partners and very senior associates and I just had to wait until I was more senior.

But my Achilles heel - my attention to pointless detail...terrible. I just could. not. be. bothered. that some judge wanted a 1.5cm border and 5 copies spiral bound and some other judge wanted a 2cm border and 10 copies with precisely one staple in the top left hand corner (no holes). Or that I couldn't remember that one partner (not even a client!) wanted everything in Ariel font even though the house style was in Times New Roman and I had to get loads of bibles reprinted at 4am.

I wanted to get the deal done, get an answer to the client, get contracts signed - I hated the equivocation, the one-hand/other-hand fence sitting advice which covered our asses but pissed clients off because it didn't actually tell them anything helpful, it just presented options with no endorsement from us. Of course it was important to get things right - that's what we were being paid for - but often the fear of getting things wrong was IMO an impediment to the actual deal we were advising on.

I never actually got an unsatisfactory review grade - but it was hard not to see that the people who got the top grades as junior associates were the ones that were able to grind away with OCD attention to detail and seemed perfectly happy to redo hours of work on some higher-up's whim (ie. eat shit with a smile, and ask for more).

So I handed in my notice to join a start-up - big risk, but potentially a big reward. When I did, the senior partner told me that he was sorry to lose me but wasn't surprised - that I would make a fantastic partner someday but I wasn't a very good associate and that he meant it as a compliment!! grin

I heartily endorse all the rest of the advice on this thread as well.

RebeccaMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 30-Jul-13 13:31:32


Hi - thanks for all this.

Would MNHQ have emailed me? I use a different email address for forum stuff which I now can't remember the password for, but yes, please move it wherever people would like it to be moved. There is lots of good advice so it would be good if people could access it permanently.

Congratulations InGloriousTechnicolor and good luck.

This is a great thread and we will be moving to classics now.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Tue 30-Jul-13 08:25:57

Glorious - Probably the best way to tell MNHQ what you've just said is to report your own post so that they see it (they might not otherwise, or it might take a while). You can then PM each other with anything else.

Glad you've found the thread helpful. Good luck in September smile.

Am I allowed one more piece of advice? Not trainee strictly. When you qualify, try to continue to live on your trainee salary for one year. That massive salary bump can very quickly wipe out debts or build you a nest egg. I did it and it really helps.

InGloriousTechnicolor Mon 29-Jul-13 23:29:34

Hi - thanks for all this.

Would MNHQ have emailed me? I use a different email address for forum stuff which I now can't remember the password for, but yes, please move it wherever people would like it to be moved. There is lots of good advice so it would be good if people could access it permanently.

Vanillapod1980 Mon 29-Jul-13 21:32:54

I'm another lawyer, just left the City at 5 years PQE as I craved a better work - life balance. I'm now working at a smaller local firm.

My advice is don't get too used to the City salary as it's very possible that you might 'down grade' your job at some point and start earning less (like me). Thankfully I saved hard while earning City money and never lived to my means so I have been able to take a pay cut without having to change my lifestyle too much.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Mon 29-Jul-13 20:18:51

I reported it a while back Pickle and MNHQ said that they would ask the OP.

MsPickle Mon 29-Jul-13 20:06:19

Great things on here, applicable to many places of work (and some great general advice for graduates). Perhaps it should go into Classics? I can't see where to report to suggest that from my phone though?

bico Mon 29-Jul-13 19:36:54

Make sure you get proper experience in the area you decide to qualify in. A friend of mine qualified and was offered a position in a dept she'd spent part of her training in. She realised that she'd never actually done any proper work in that dept and actually hated the work she was then given to do as a qualified fee earner. She ended up quitting after a year and doing a completely different area of law.

Chubfuddler Sat 27-Jul-13 14:53:06

Emsy that is the most important criteria for any recruit, trainee or otherwise at our firm. If they've applied for the job and got to interview stage it's taken as read that they could probably do it, but will they fit in? Crucial. Identify the corporate values of the firm and demonstrate them.

emsyj Sat 27-Jul-13 14:43:22

"On a more serious note, I honesty used to hate the really brown nosed trainees who were pushy know it alls. You have your TC now so concentrate on working hard and building relationships at the firm, rather than proving how much better than everyone else you are! I know the partners in my team took 'fit with colleagues and clients' just as serious as academic ability."

Couldn't agree more. Just as in any job, there has to be a feeling that you fit in and work well with others and get on with people. Interestingly, when I went for my first interview at the MC firm I worked at, the feedback afterwards didn't mention my total lack of experience in the practice area they were recruiting for, nor my academic background but consisted of - 'they really liked you and said they thought you would fit in well with the team'.

GherkinsAreAce Sat 27-Jul-13 12:03:41

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BonaDea Sat 27-Jul-13 11:45:17

*seriously (attention to detail also important!!)

BonaDea Sat 27-Jul-13 11:44:38

On a more serious note, I honesty used to hate the really brown nosed trainees who were pushy know it alls. You have your TC now so concentrate on working hard and building relationships at the firm, rather than proving how much better than everyone else you are! I know the partners in my team took 'fit with colleagues and clients' just as serious as academic ability.

Murtette Fri 26-Jul-13 22:12:34

I keep coming back to this thread as I'm finding everyone's thoughts fascinating. And am scribbling many of them down for when I do a presentation to the new trainees in early Sept.
A few more thoughts:
- I always told my trainees to put any weddings, their boyfriend's birthday, their parents' wedding anniversary and other significant events which they had to be out of the office for in my calendar and make sure that I got a reminder 24hrs before it happened. That way, I could always sort out the staffing on a deal so that the trainee made it to this event. I could not do this if they didn't tell me at all (obviously!) or I only found out about it 30 mins before the event was due to start and a colleague found them sobbing in the toilet;
- if you have to work a weekend then, depending on the circumstances, there may be some flexibility as to when you work. Obviously this won't apply if you're in all day Sat & Sun but, if, for example, we were expecting a doc late on Friday evening & I was going to review it on Saturday & put it into typing & had asked you to proof it then, if the other side weren't expecting it until Monday morning, it wouldn't actually matter if you did the work on Sat evening, Sun morning or Sun afternoon so you could fit it in around your plans
- if you're asked to do a task and told how to do it, do it that way, especially if you're up against a concrete deadline. You may think you have a better way of doing it but I will have a reason (usually, simply experience) for asking you to do it a particular way. One of my previous trainees did not get offered an NQ job as always did it his own way meaning which missed some important deadlines
- if you wear contact lenses and they're the sort that can only be worn for X number of hours, make sure you have your glasses in the office. If you've forgotten them, tell your supervisor and go home/send a taxi to get them. Again, I had a trainee who wore her contact lenses for 27 hours, got an eye infection and had to have a week off all because she never told me or anyone else that she needed to go home & get her glasses. Likewise, if you're on the type of pill that has to be taken at pretty much the same time every day, keep them in your handbag so you don't risk missing one. My DD is the result of me doing too many all nighters in one month and being a bit slap dash with exactly when I was taking the pill!
- find out who the office gossip is. Be careful of what you tell them as they will tell everyone else. Realise that what they are telling you may not be the exact truth. Also find out who the font of all information is. This person is different to the gossip. They know all the gossip but never gossip themselves although will occasionally impart a very important and relevant piece of information.
- don't chose your seats/the department you qualify into on the basis of the people in it but on the basis of the underlying work. People change firms frequently and, by the time you're 1yr PQE, the people who were in that dept when you were in your 2nd seat may be very different
- this is a careful line to tread and one you probably won't be able to do for a couple of years but if there's something on a deal which completely doesn't make sense, question it. And if the answer doesn't make sense, question it again. When I was about 2yr PQE, I was brought into a deal late on and couldn't understand something. Asked the 2yr PQE in the lead department who explained it in a way which didn't satisfy me; asked the 4yr PQE & still didn't get it so eventually raised it with the partner who I knew had only had about 8 hours sleep that week (it was now Thursday evening) and was very senior when I was very new to the firm - yes, I had picked up a whole but the others had been so used to it that they couldn't quite accept it wasn't covered. I have done this three or four times since and have also had it done to me.
- if someone has given you instructions which don't make sense to you, it may be that they simply don't make sense rather than due to your ignorance. I'd often go back to my supervisor or the partner & say we now have to do X and they'd go "what are you talking about". I hadn't queried it as I'd assumed that if you knew more about the deal or something it would all become clear.

Fillyjonk75 Fri 26-Jul-13 21:55:09

Thanks for this thread. I am 10 years qualified and about to go back to the city and there was a lot of stuff here I didn't know.

AmandaPandtheTantrumofDoom Fri 26-Jul-13 21:52:53

If you have high standards and are hard on yourself, also be aware of burn out.

Many lawyers are perfectionists. But sometimes you have to be realistic about what you can achieve in the time available and not beat yourself up. Not so much as a trainee, but as a qualified lawyer, sometimes you have to learn that good enough is good enough. High standards are great, but so is perspective. smile

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