You passed your leaving certificate, got your degree, passed all 8 FE-1s, survived the milk rounds and you secured a training contract. You went back to Blackhall, made new friends, drank lots of coffee, crammed for exams once again, went to fancy dress parties and you possibly went to Coppers on a Tuesday night.
You may have worked 18-hour days on high value acquisitions, you may have been on your feet in front of the local District Judge every week, you may have had a large case load which you pretty much ran single handed or you may have been at your partner’s beck and call.
Whichever type of training contract you enjoyed, you not only survived the last 2.5 years, but you are now a fully-fledged solicitor. Congratulations! This is something to be very proud of and something we all take for granted when surrounded by talented lawyers all day.
So what’s next…. Whether you are staying on with your training firm or moving to a new firm here are my top 3 tips to maximising those early years post qualification:
1. Seek help often: You will come across new situations weekly and nobody expects you to already know how to handle these. In fact, one very important skill is knowing what you don’t know. Ask your supervising solicitor for guidance at these times.
Some firms have lots of structure around this and you should use and value it, other firms might not make your lines of escalation as clear, but you should still seek it out. You might be qualified now but be patient and do not forget that everyone, from newly qualified to partners, is still learning. Remembering this is how great solicitors become great.
2. Take all the general advice you can get: Experienced solicitors can and will offer you buckets of advice about the various aspects of working as a solicitor. Sometimes this advice is on point, sometimes it does not seem relevant, but take it all in.
You should also take advice from friends, family, clients and other connections outside of the legal profession. Listen to what they have to say and see how they approach matters. Solicitors are a smart and strategic bunch but you are surrounded by a group of people who share a lot of the same skillset. It’s invaluable to listen to people outside of the profession too and see how they approach things. The opportunity for learning is endless.
3. Start to think ahead and independently: Most people do not have a set 5-year plan, especially at this stage. However, you probably have a few ideas as to where you see your career going. It’s good to actually sit down and think about how you might actually achieve this. You don’t need to decide on a strict path now but you do need to understand which paths you need to keep open, and which you are comfortable to close off.
I have met a lot of solicitors with successful careers who “fell into” their practice areas and career paths, after all we cannot control everything. There is nothing wrong with this; some solicitors are suited to a range of areas and might not need or wish to make a strict plan. However, it’s still important to keep yourself fully informed on how your career might develop and also to understand your own personal interests/ambitions.
Then, when little decisions come up as to whether to get involved in a particular project or attend a particular networking event, you can make an informed choice for yourself. Just because your office mate is interested in certain events, practice areas, clients, partners and so on, it doesn’t mean that you need to be. The legal profession is a wonderful community but there is plenty of space for informed, independent choice within it.
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