About to start your training contract? Halfway through and wondering how to up your game? Read on for the top three things to avoid doing, once you’re finally on your way to qualification…
Fear making mistakes
It’s natural to feel the fear of making mistakes when you’re just starting out – a good proportion of the work you do in your first few months will likely involve errors of some kind. But making mistakes is something you’ll have to get used to during your training contract. In fact, it’s something you should embrace.
Try regarding each mistake as an opportunity to learn – not just about how to fix the error (and avoid making the same mistake in future), but also to learn about yourself. What caused you to make that specific mistake? Does it indicate a more general lack of a particular skill or ability? Looking forwards, how can you show that you’ve learned or developed from your mistake?
In answering these questions, it can be helpful to note them down – consider keeping a personal development diary or feedback tracker. Take a few minutes each month to record your mistakes and how you’ve taken steps to prevent them happening again. Reflect upon the skills you’re working on, and note down any visible progress that you can see happening in your work.
An entry in a personal development diary might look something like this:
|Date||Matter||Specific Notes||General Skills||Feedback/Progress|
|1 May 17||Failure to spot error in document||When reviewing documents, always check each clause for practical application||Attention to detail||Ask for feedback from supervisor after four weeks|
Not only is this a great way to monitor your progress (and gives you something tangible to discuss in those awkward review meetings with your supervisor) but it’s incredibly satisfying to see your own improvement – and it goes a long way in helping to get over the fear of mistake-making.
Keep your questions to yourself
Ok, so your supervisor is always busy – way too busy to answer your questions. And they’re probably stupid questions, anyway. Better to keep them to yourself, right?
When it comes to learning and development, this couldn’t be further from the truth. So long as you’ve given more than a few minutes of thought to your questions (i.e., it’s not something you could easily Google or look up elsewhere), there’s rarely such thing as a stupid question. Questions are your fast-track to comprehension: it shows you’re actually interested in what you’re doing. (Bonus points for those questions that you’ve thought carefully about and framed in a way that’s relevant to a project or matter you’re working on.)
Of course, you’ll still have to deal with the fact that those around you are likely to be extremely busy, and so questions should always be delivered at an appropriate time. Try keeping a list of unresolved questions as they come up, and working through them with supervisors at the end of a matter, project or seat.
If there never seems to be a good time, see if your supervisor is able to carve out a specific appointment in their diary to sit down with you and chat through your queries. A central part of a supervisor’s role is to ensure that their trainee is getting the full understanding that becomes essential to long-term career success – question and answer discussions can be a great way to accelerate this process.
Bear in mind that various questions will be more appropriate to direct to some people rather than others. If the question can be easily answered by a peer (who, for example, might have encountered the same problem a few weeks ago), try asking them first. The same goes for junior lawyers working on similar matters, or mentors at a more junior level. It’s more than likely that, if you’re questioning it yourself, other people have questioned it, too – and possibly already found the answers you’re looking for.
Compare yourself to others
It’s tempting to spend a lot of time wondering what your fellow trainees are up to. This is especially the case for those in smaller intakes, or for trainees who have formed strong friendship groups. As much as possible, avoid comparisons. It doesn’t help you to know what someone else is doing, how they’ve performed in the eyes of their supervisor, or how many hours they’re racking up. Your performance and the performance of another trainee are not directly comparable – you’re both working on different things, for different people, and with different circumstances dictating your results.
If the real reason you tend to compare yourself to others is due to a little insecurity about your own position, the best thing to do is speak to someone slightly more senior than you about your progress. They’ll have a better, more objective perspective on how you’re performing compared to what they would expect from someone of your level. They’ll also often be far more honest with you than you would be with yourself. And it will alleviate any stress about what the others are doing – stress that will, in the end, only detract you from your true role: performance of your own tasks to the best of your ability.