Training Contract: Expectations v Realities

September 16, 2021


3 min read

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Everyone wants a training contract. From the glamour of Suits to the gripping intensity of Better Call Saul, television paints a varied but thrilling picture of life as a lawyer. But a slightly bleaker version is seen from the interviewee comments on Chambers Student or RollOnFriday.

With these different narratives, it’s normal to feel apprehensive about starting (or applying for) a training contract. However, the truth is everyone’s training contract is unique. You will work in different teams for a range of fee earners, who come from different backgrounds and have different working styles.

Let’s debunk some of the most common assumptions about the training contract experience.

Expectation 1: All Work, No Play

A lot of the apprehension around starting a training contract is because of the worry that trainees do not have a social life. Many of us picture scenes of working late every night and cancelling birthday plans.

The Reality: The Working Hours Vary

The reality is that trainee working hours depend on the department and the matters that you are working on. Different departments have different cultures. For example, Tax can be less hectic in several firms because tax lawyers usually don’t run their own deals from start to finish. They tend to provide advisory work on deals run by other departments.

A typical day in most law firms is 9am to 8pm. But there are outliers. There are firms where (at certain times) you may have to stay much later. However, how late you stay depends on your time management skills and ability to prioritise tasks. If you can organise your schedule effectively, you will find your working hours manageable. Even more so with COVID, there is less of a face-time culture at firms. The general rule is that you stay late if there’s work to do, not for the sake of it. Rest easy. There will be time for those after-work drinks, live shows, or the gym.

Expectation 2: The People will be Unapproachable

After going through the application process, most of us can acknowledge that law is a competitive industry. It’s normal, therefore, to assume that you will be thrown into a cut-throat environment, where friends are hard to come by.

The Reality: The Culture is Supportive and Collegiate

Everyone at the firm you train at understands how nerve-wracking it is starting work as a fresh-faced trainee. Concerns about your race or background will disappear quickly; the firm has hired you because you are capable. Everyone in your firm will have a different background, which means your diversity will be welcomed.

Furthermore, rumours you’ve heard about qualification being a back-stabbing frenzy are often exaggerated. There will be competition for qualification positions at several firms. However, your firm will have invested a lot in you and the rest of your cohort will be going through the same thing. As long as you try to build connections within the firm during your TC, you will never be short of support.

Expectation 3: Boring Trainee Tasks

There is a misconception that training contracts are nothing more than an extended course in photocopying. You may have heard that trainees complete administrative tasks every day as they are at the bottom of the totem pole.

The Reality: Challenging Work from the Start

Trainees engage in real work from the first day. If you are proactive and demonstrate that you are competent, you will have challenging tasks from the get-go. This can range from leading due diligence on small deals to managing conditions precedent (CP) checklists or coordinating signings. There will be opportunities to exercise independent judgment and thought. Yes, proofreading or filling Companies House forms isn’t that glamorous. But it’s also necessary for your development. Think of the more administrative tasks as the training drills you do in a sport before competitive matches. They are never as fun as a match, but you need them.

Overall, the training contract experience isn’t Suits, but you will receive great client exposure and the chance to get stuck in early. The hours are what you make of it while the people are not villains. It’s important to debunk common myths so that you start your training contract fully prepared, and speaking to current trainees at firms to get an even better picture of what you are signing up for is never a bad idea!

Report written by Deniyi Coker

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