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  • Writer's pictureThe Legal Digest

How Life as a Qualified Solicitor differs from Life as a Trainee

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

My year as an NQ came to an end a few weeks ago, I have another step up in my career to 1 year PQE and reflect on how life as a trainee differs.

Aspiring solicitors reading this will either be thinking about what life is like as a trainee, embarking on a training contract or coming to the end of their training contract and transitioning into a NQ role.


Trainee life

In the middle of my training contract there was a pandemic so my life as a trainee saw two different sides.


Pre-pandemic I was only office based, and after already working with my team for 3 years as a paralegal the trust in performing in the role was already there. As I trained in-house I don't think there ever was any typical paralegal or trainee tasks it was just a case of getting involved in everything that came my way. That is the nature of in-house work you don't get to necessarily specialise in anything but you become used to dealing with lots of different areas and in some cases are supported by technical experts in law firms.


Because of this I believe I was given a higher level of responsibility than most trainees. My day involved a mixture of meetings, drafting, researching and assisting with more strategic work that in-house legal teams play an important role in.


Working from home full time didn't change the type of work that I got involved in, but it became clear that technology was the key when the only way to communicate was through my laptop and we had no access to physical files. I can't talk about client meetings during this time or socials like private practice trainees can do but it helped me to discover how I prefer to work and have more autonomy.


Qualified Solicitor Life


Fast forward 18 months and I qualify, we are still under a partial lockdown but at the same time there was a lot going on in my personal life which meant that getting on a plane was more important as border closures forced me to be separated from my husband for 2 years. I was working from home but abroad and I had special circumstances, I never thought I would be able to work like this and it was a very new concept. So after a few months when it became clear that my employer intended for us to return to the office full-time I decided to switch to contracting as an interim lawyer so that I could continue living the digital nomad lifestyle and also work my wellness goals around my work. Being physically and mentally well has become a top priority and I don't enjoy working for companies where I have to compromise on that.


In addition, so much of our time leading up to qualification is spent on sending out applications or revising for upcoming exams and I wanted to have the freedom to finally focus on something else but continue working in the law.


I have said this before but it took around 12 years from entering university to qualify and in this time I put all my energy and effort into my work sometimes at the cost of my physical or mental health.


So I started working for clients that were in different sectors and getting involved in more decision making, because my previous experience really made me stand out from other NQ's so all in all it was all worth it.


Being an NQ can be scary because you have to get used to less hand holding, that is the first hurdle, the next step is getting yourself seen in the business and applying all those transferable skills. Reminding yourself that your opinions and judgement matter in the workplace but also that whatever you share with your co workers, you have a responsibility to have well-thought out answers that you can back up whether they are right or wrong. Having the confidence to do that is a big step.


The type of work I do is not too different but it's really about applying your knowledge and your skills to that particular business which may have very different risk appetites to other roles you have worked in. So thinking things through as though, I guess as though you were in the shareholders shoes, what the risks or consequences would be for engaging with a particular supplier or starting a new product or initiative.


It's the small things that you notice like the expectations placed on you shift slightly so people don't always check your work and you have more free rein to deal directly with clients. In my case I always deal directly with clients, as a contractor I think there is less of the nice fluffy intros and a sense of needing to hit the ground running.



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