The start of a training contract is a landmark event for any aspiring lawyer. I never would have guessed that within five days of me starting mine in the office, I would be spending the next six weeks (and counting) learning the ropes from home.

I started on King & Spalding’s trainee programme on Monday 9 March. My first seat was in the global disputes practice. By Friday 13 March, however, the firm had implemented a firm-wide remote working policy in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

As such, I have had to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of a socially-distanced, remote-working legal world. In fact, a socially-distanced, remote-working legal world has practically been my only ‘normal’ so far.

Expectations changed

My expectations of life in an international law firm were well established after going through the trainee application process, visiting offices and meeting many lawyers. Having completed the LPC, I was looking forward to the corporate environment of an international law firm, the hustle and bustle of the City, working directly with new colleagues, face-to-face meetings, working with my training partner… and even, surprisingly, the commute.

Within a week though, the unprecedented and unpredictable nature of COVID-19 meant we all faced the daunting prospect of a prolonged ‘work from home’ experience. I was at the beginning of all those important work-place inductions, such as meeting colleagues and familiarising myself with the firm and the office. By day five, I had not been able to ease into practices such as popping into people’s office, turning to my sponsoring partner to clarify a task, grabbing a coffee with members of the team or enjoying office social events.

I did not even have time to have my office picture taken (hence my unofficial profile picture taken by a hesitant friend).

Life in lockdown

In contrast to sharing an office with a training partner, I am currently working from the family home and have commandeered the dining table as my desk. Maintaining a daily routine during lockdown has been important for me. I enjoy starting early; logging on at 8am to get a head start for the day and send out emails or organise my time and set deadlines or expectations for the day.

I am in regular contact with both my supervising partner and the training principal, to keep in touch with what I am doing. I am also in touch daily with the team, working on client matters, to inform them of my capacity or to discuss ideas for the website or potential articles. I am also using this time to complete the core modules of the Professional Skills Course – it is good to get ahead of these whilst I have time to do so, before our physical return to the office. Ensuring that I step outside for fresh air and exercise – and to be able to enjoy weather so good it would only occur during lockdown – has been vital for maintaining energy levels.

The variety of work has kept my very engaged in my new role, notwithstanding social-distancing: from attending virtual court hearings, drafting letters, gathering exhibits, proofreading and researching to attending client calls, applying for a Norwich Pharmacal Order and, of course, article writing, I have been fortunate enough to remain fully occupied and mentally stimulated. So much so it is hard to believe it has been a month and a half on WFH already.

I have been working on multiple litigation and arbitration proceedings at different stages from client due diligence to experiencing the race towards ‘filings’ in three cases. Indeed, it just so happens that my own remote-working situation coincided with the English High Courts move towards virtual cases, and I have been involved in a few of them as part of the team. It is reassuring to know that while my first experiences of High Court cases were virtual, I was in the same boat as all the judges, advocates and solicitors on those cases as virtual courts was a new experience for them too.

Indeed, I can definitely say I have learnt the value of 24-hour tech and library support, perhaps something not every trainee (or lawyer for that matter) will appreciate. Their guidance has been amazing in terms of getting to grips with software and systems that were previously alien to me. Technology as a whole has been vital – and all my ongoing zoom training sessions and webinar conferences have helped with the integration.

Back to the office

Despite the challenges of lockdown, many law firms have been plunged into a prolonged period of remote-working so everyone – from senior partners to trainees – has been adapting to the home-working environment. While this has not been the experience I had expected, it has been an invaluable experience that has given me some great new perspectives.

The regularity of communication, training and advice from colleagues – albeit over phone, email or VC rather than in-person – has been great. It is perhaps strange to say but it feels like I may have more of a bond with colleagues because of the COVID-19 lockdown experience. Colleagues have been very aware and considerate so, despite lockdown, we have developed a sense of community. It feels, through a mixture of technology and camaraderie, that I have been able to embed myself into the office.

Although it will be difficult to say goodbye to some of the comforts of remote-working (I hear leisurewear is not sanctioned office attire and I really need to expand my workwear wardrobe), I look forward to when I can, literally, start my official second week in the office.

On my return to the office I am looking forward to the human interaction and being able to put a real face to a name or WebEx image for many members of the team that I have only met virtually.

I will certainly never forget my first seat. And not many trainees can say it was mostly spent at the dinner table.

Elysia-Elena Stellakis is a trainee in King & Spalding’s London office