In the latest guest post to the blog, Harry Perrin argues that with new routes to qualification as a lawyer appearing each year, law firms need to stop perpetuating a stereotype that trainee solicitors are without life experience or common sense
What has been the high point of your legal career? If you are a top QC being interviewed for the Law Gazette or some such publicaton, you are likely to say something along the lines of ‘the time you fought the government in the Supreme Court and overturned a grave miscarriage of justice’. If you are a trainee solicitor, however, my straw poll of idly viewing firms’ websites suggests you are more likely to say something like: “The time I answered the winning question in the local law society quiz,” or “My first day when everyone made me feel so welcome”. Clearly trainees have not single-handedly secured acquittals of defendants unjustly accused of war crimes, but there is surely a sliding scale here. The trend seems to be for trainees to portray themselves as hapless buffoons incapable of any genuine professional achievements.
It applies to career low points as well, or, as more commonly seems to be asked in online trainee profiles: ‘most embarrassing moments’. I have seen “dropping a whole tray of teas” and “missing an easy catch in the inter-office cricket match” cited. I am sure Michael Mansfield QC has missed a few catches in his time, but if he recalled this as the low point of his career, I would think the less of him. These trainees were surely more professional in their job applications; they seem actively to have gone backwards. Those applications which responded to that question about weaknesses by referring to an inability to hold tea or catch cricket balls, would, I would wager, have been put to the bottom of the pile. Yet once safely ensconced in the job, trainees seem to think this is just the sort of pliant subservience their employers are looking for.
Maybe it is, but it is bad business. One trainee recounted – in answer to the most embarrassing moment question – the time she had to cycle to court in half the time she should have allowed. All was well though, she concluded, as she arrived with enough time to be briefed by her clients, who were none-the-wiser, and proceeded to win the case. All youthful high jinks, except when you put yourself in the shoes of the poor clients who were probably paying top dollar for a well-prepared professional from a slick firm, not a halfwit on a pushbike who could not calculate her journey time properly.
Worse is the partner’s daughter, trainee at a small firm, who appears on the website in graduation garb and lists her interests as ‘partying’. Would I trust this woman to turn up at the High Court, the worse for wear from a night of partying – a mortarboard on her head and scroll in hand – to safeguard my offshore assets from the claws of multinational creditors? Reader, I would not.
Routes to qualification are becoming increasingly varied. Many trainees are starting training contracts with several years’ experience as a paralegal under their belts, and other prospective solicitors are looking to have significant periods of relevant experience count towards qualification. In this context, the stereotype of the green young trainee, fresh out of law school without a bean of common sense far less relevant professional experience, is clearly inappropriate. It is time for firms to stop perpetuating it, but moreover it is time for trainees themselves to stop. It is an easy trap to fall into in a hierarchical profession. This makes it all the more important to stay vigilant.
Harry Perrin practises corporate law in a niche Legal-500-rated commercial law firm. He qualified last summer from a large regional, full service practice.
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