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Navigating your first week as a trainee

20 February 2023

The first week of any new role can be daunting at the best of times, so it’s natural to feel nervous about starting your training contract. Here are some reflections on my first week as a trainee and some practical tips to help you navigate yours!

1. Get to know your fellow trainees

At Lewis Silkin, all trainees are enrolled in the Professional Skills Course (‘PSC’) in the weeks prior to the start of the training contract. This was a great way for us to get to know each other before starting at the firm. I encourage you to get to know your fellow trainees early on. In my first week, we all leant on each other for support - asking each other questions about IT, time recording and more generally about the office.

2. Think about how you’d like to get the most out of your experience

Before your first week, I’d suggest looking up your supervisor and the type of work they do. It’s also worth thinking about if there are any particular areas of law that you’d like to gain experience in during your seat. That way, in your first week you can have a productive conversation with your supervisor and introduce yourself to any specific individuals in the wider team who work in areas that you are interested in.

3. Be enthusiastic and friendly

It sounds obvious but being enthusiastic and friendly goes a long way. It’s also worth bearing in mind that some people may not realise you’re a new trainee (this is more likely if you’re in a large department and/or there is hybrid working) so it’s important to introduce yourself to those sitting near you. You could also send around an email to the department introducing yourself or offering your help, or to any specific individuals you’re keen to work. Showing interest and initiative will count in your favour.

4. Keep a notepad and pen with you

It’s a good idea to keep a notepad and pen with you as sometimes you may be given a task when you’re not sitting at your desk. If you take a note of the instructions given at the time, you’re less likely to miss or forget any key details.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re receiving instructions. Clarifying any points upfront will help you produce better work, and it shows you are interested in and engaging with the work. Equally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you get confused mid-task. It’s much better to ask questions and stay on track then suffer in silence and ultimately miss the mark.

6. Manage expectations

When you’re receiving instructions, remember to clarify timelines so you are clear of your deadline. If you’ve already committed to another piece of work and are anxious that the deadline won’t be achievable, it’s better to be honest about it from the outset. It may be that there is a bit of wiggle room with the deadline so you can still be involved. Alternatively, you may find that the individual needs to find somebody else. Either way, they will be grateful for your honesty. Nobody will remember or mind if you’ve had to turn down a piece of work due to your capacity, but they are more likely to remember if you produce work late because you haven’t managed your workload effectively.

7. Learn how to use office equipment and get on good terms with the support teams

In your first week you probably won’t be overloaded with work so make the most of any spare time. I suggest learning how to use the office printers and scanners and identifying the relevant support teams for when you have a problem. The IT help desk will undoubtedly come to your rescue at some point over the training contract, as will the Facilities team when you need assistance in the office – so get on good terms with them early on!

8. Sign up to training sessions

You can also make the most of any spare time by getting organised and signing up to any training sessions in areas you’d like to upskill. You could also have a think about which PSC elective modules you’d like to take and sign up for these too. It’s easy for these types of tasks to fall down the list of priorities when your workload starts to pick up, so you’ll be grateful that you’ve organised this in advance.

9. Build good working habits

When it comes to working habits, start as you mean to go on and get into a good routine. Set up your timers and get into the habit of time recording throughout the day with appropriate narratives. Try to keep up to date with your trainee dairy too – you’ll soon realise how easy it is to fall behind! You could set up a recurring reminder in your calendar at the end of the week if you think a memory aid might help. It’s also a good idea to ensure you have access to key resources like PLC, Westlaw and Lexis – I added these to my favourites on my home screen for easy access.

10. Have confidence in yourself and enjoy it!

Last but not least, have confidence in yourself! Nerves are normal but try to remember that you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t deserve to be. You’re not expected to know everything, you’re there to learn – so try not to put too much pressure on yourself and enjoy it!

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