After years of study and hard work followed by the final hurdle of your training contract, the prospect of qualifying as a solicitor can be a daunting one. Two people who have been through and successfully negotiated what can be a nerve-wracking transition are Shanika Varga and Hannah Ross, both family solicitors at Stowe Family Law and members of Leeds Junior Family Lawyers. I recently caught up with them and asked if they had any advice for lawyers who are approaching qualification.
Below are their top hints and tips for newly qualified family solicitors:
- Ask as many questions as you did when you were a trainee
- Don’t expect to suddenly know everything overnight. There’s always room for improvement, the law is continually evolving so there is always a need to update your knowledge.
- Your style will change as time goes on, particularly as you become more confident; this will be reflected in the advice you give and most noticeably your written correspondence.
- Be clear on the level of supervision/ support that you will have post qualification. It is important to know what is expected of you and where you should turn if you need help
- Get as much experience as you can when you’re a trainee because you will have additional responsibilities upon qualification which won’t necessarily allow you the same opportunity to sit back and observe by shadowing appointments and attending court hearings
- Know your limits/ boundaries – whilst it is always good to challenge yourself – it is also ok to say you’re out of your depth and need help
- Keep your LPC and PSC books to refer back to. The advocacy handbook will come in handy when you have your first court hearing and can’t remember how to address the Judge/bench (it happens to us all!)
- Build a support network of people you can trust and turn to. This is a tough job and having people around you makes the more difficult days easier to get through.
- If you make a mistake don’t try to hide it or fix it without telling your supervisor. No one is immune to getting things wrong and with such a complicated and stressful job it will happen more than once! Try to learn from the error and make sure you tell someone as soon as you realise what you’ve done! It’s scary having to hold your hands up and admit to doing something wrong but it will be much worse if you try to hide the mistake not least because it brings your honesty and integrity into question, both of which are integral to being a solicitor.
- It’s good practice to keep your files in order. The quicker you get into a routine, the sooner it will become second nature.
- Try to attend law updates organised by barrister chambers. They are not only a good opportunity for you to keep up to date with the law but a chance to put faces to names and to meet other solicitors/ build a network.
Shanika joined Stowe Family Law as a trainee solicitor in 2014 and remained at the firm upon qualifying in 2016. She is a strong believer in asking questions but also in trainees having confidence in their skillset:
“Qualification is both exciting and terrifying at the same time. Overnight you suddenly have significantly more responsibility than before so don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you are unsure. No one will expect you to morph into a walking and talking red book overnight. Needing support is absolutely expected. I still ask questions! However, don’t forget to have confidence in yourself and your ability. You know more than you think you do. If you are unsure about something, try to get into the practice of telling your colleagues your thought process and solution rather than asking them to tell you what to do if you. Most of the time you will be on the right track and hearing that from someone with more experience will reassure you of your ability and knowledge and show others how capable you are.
Try not to let your worries overwhelm you. There are going to be tough days but they will get less with the more experience you have. In those moments where you question yourself, think back to where you were two years ago at the start of your training contract, compared to the present day and remember how far you’ve already come. Most importantly, do what you can to maintain your mental health, you cannot assist people with one of the most difficult times of their lives if you are running on empty. This will mean setting boundaries, which isn’t always easy but it is essential to avoid burning out.
Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy it. I spent a lot of my NQ year worrying and overthinking and didn’t spend anywhere near as much time taking a moment to enjoy the journey!”
On the other hand, Hannah completed her training contract at a busy city centre legal aid firm. She qualified as a solicitor in March 2018 and joined Stowe Family Law later that year. When we spoke, Hannah emphasised the importance of reflecting on what you have achieved.
“When you qualify it can feel like you all of a sudden have the responsibility of the world on your shoulders but it is important to stop and take a minute to remember that you have worked extremely hard to get to this point and you have finally made it.”
However, she also reinforced the importance of asking questions when necessary and stressed that while it might be difficult, NQ solicitors should try not to take things personally, when dealing with clients who are likely to be going through a difficult time:
“That being said it is extremely important to still ask questions when you are unsure as to what you need to do. The solicitors you work with can very quickly forget that you have only just qualified and you will inevitably still have a lot to learn.
It is also important to remember that as a solicitor you are unfortunately often the bearer of bad news and the only person clients can vent to is you, it is nothing personal and it shouldn’t be taken to heart.”
While you have finally reached your goal of becoming a qualified solicitor, but in fact, your legal career is just beginning. If you’ve joined a new firm upon qualification or even if you just fancy meeting some new people, joining a group such as Leeds Junior Family Lawyers can help you to build a network of like-minded lawyers who are at a similar stage of their career.
About Leeds Junior Family Lawyers
Leeds Junior Family Lawyers is a networking group which meets regularly and brings together solicitors who are in the early days of their careers. It offers lawyers the opportunity to meet other Leeds-based family solicitors in a relaxed and laid-back environment, share ideas and get extra training. If you find networking daunting, this is a fantastic group to become part of and grow your network of like-minded individuals.