Jessica, a first year trainee at Watson Burton, tells us about her first weeks as a trainee.
The first day
When you start a training contract, there are some things that you expect – you expect to take a few weeks to build up good relationships within your team, you expect to start off with the small jobs, proving yourself over a period of time until you’re trusted enough to do the more exciting jobs and you expect to develop an unhealthy addiction to coffee.
My experience at Watson Burton dispels all of those stereotypes. From the first day in the employment department one of the solicitors made a point of asking me whether I’d like a cup of tea when she was making them and one of the partners gave me an overview of the cases she had on which I could help with and suggested topics I could read into. My supervisor spent almost an hour talking to me about the department, the work, the training contract and other things that would help over the six months and when I went to introduce myself to the Head of the Department, he told me about a telephone conference he’d just had with a client and gave some research to do.
Part of the team
By all accounts, the employment department is known for being friendly and approachable, but that attitude is the same across the entire firm and I haven’t come across anyone, at any level, who hasn’t been more than happy to help with any questions, whether that’s a kindly secretary showing you how to work a photocopier or a partner stopping to talk to you about the merits of mediation. The office is open plan, which means it’s been really easy to get to know people. A trainee lunch was organised within our first week, which gave us an opportunity to meet the second year trainees, who, despite being obviously busy with their own seats have gone out of their way to include us in social events (such as the very sophisticated wine and cheese tasting evening hosted by Women In Law) and offer words of wisdom and reassurance. There is no-one I would hesitate before speaking to or asking about some work.
In terms of work, the term ‘hit the ground running’ doesn’t begin to cover it. There are a range of tasks to get involved in and even the more mundane ones allow you to get a broad view of what’s happening with cases so you can start trying to anticipate what will be happening next which you might be able to help with. Taking the initiative is encouraged and as soon as you do, you start seeing the opportunities to offer assistance. I’ve done research, drafted documents, attended client meetings, been sent to the Leeds office to assist with witness statements and analysed evidence to determine what will be of most assistance to cases. I’m particularly excited at the prospect of attending employment tribunals in London and Liverpool in the next couple of weeks, which will be a fantastic opportunity to see the effects of the work I’ve been doing. The work is challenging but people are always happy to talk through the context of what they’re asking you to do and reviewing work with you once you’ve done it, so I’ve found it’s best to have a go at whatever lands on your desk and see how far you can get. Because the working is engaging and you quickly develop a sense of responsibility for the cases you’re helping with, coming in early or staying later doesn’t feel like an imposition. Having said that, Watson Burton doesn’t encourage a culture of staying late unnecessarily and your supervisor is always on hand. It’s also important to know people’s expectations and just asking when someone would like work done by allows you to manage deadlines or asking whether a task is more urgent than another job will show you what to prioritise. We have a target for chargeable hours which is helpful as an indicator as to what is expected.
As for the over-reliance on coffee, again, Watson Burton has exceeded this expectation. I know some people forgo hot drinks or caffeine, but this isn’t a stance I have ever adopted and with a barista coffee machine on the 4th floor which is effectively like having an unbelievably cheap coffee shop that you don’t even have to put your coat on to frequent, that isn’t going to change any time soon. In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time to finish off my coffee and crack on.