Shearman & Sterling blog

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Top tips to succeed on your training contract

22nd August 2017


When I was asked to write an article on the topic of training contract success, a few things initially jumped to mind but there are three important points to make at the outset:

  • This isn’t an article about the usual basic tips on how to succeed – e.g. carry a pad and a pen at all times, ask lots of questions to clarify instructions, be on time, etc. – because these tips are boring and we’ve all heard them a million times before. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t actually do these, do, because it’s embarrassing if you don’t.

  • People want you to succeed. The firm has invested a lot of time and money in selecting you and often paying for your course fees to get to this stage. Colleagues want to work with good trainees, it can make their life so much easier and more enjoyable if the trainee working with them is good.

  • First impressions matter. It’s really important to get a good reputation early in your training contract. Get a reputation as work shy or having poor attention to detail and that can follow you around, especially in a smaller intake of trainees.

So then, if not the boring tips you usually hear, what makes a trainee ‘good’ and how can you secure a ‘good’ reputation early in your training contract and importantly continue to maintain it for training contract success?


  • It may sound obvious but being willing and enthusiastic goes a long way. Actively engage in your career and your firm by showing an interest in the transactions or cases that the team is working on and on the clients that you are working for.

  • Keep up to date with current affairs and spot what key clients are doing. Don’t be afraid to circulate or discuss breaking news articles that are of interest to the team or colleagues you work with closely.

  • Ask questions – not just to clarify instructions, but deeper questions that really get at why the client wants to do something in a certain way.

Positive attitude

  • Understand that there will be times when you are really not enjoying the task you are doing; you do not necessarily agree with the purpose of or approach to the task; or you are not pleased with what you see as a ridiculous and unachievable deadline.

  • Try to remain positive during these times, seek solace and advice from those around you, particularly those you are close to in your intake and junior associates who will have been through it before.

  • Senior associates and partners look dimly on those who grumble or complain about “rubbish” work and consequently do a rushed or poor job on very basic mundane tasks. Conversely, those who get on with the less glamorous tasks with little to no fuss and a smile are massively appreciated. Everyone has the same starting point and if you succeed in doing those basic “trainee” tasks well, you are more likely to be the one approached to do more complex and interesting work. You will be seen as a safe pair of hands.

Work/life balance

  • It’s important to try very hard to maintain your interests outside of work. Starting your training contract should not signal the end of your life as you knew it and mean giving up everything else.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask to leave, tell people you have plans or would like to do something on a weekday evening. Colleagues will try and work deadlines around your plans if possible but communication is key. Communicate your plans as early as possible so that the team is aware and can plan work streams in advance. Do not announce at 5.55 pm that you need to urgently leave at 6.00 pm because a member of your family is visiting and you’re supposed to be meeting them for dinner.

  • At times you will be shattered and it will be easier to just go home and crash out, but it’s important to maintain your social life through hobbies and friends. This can be extremely difficult given the hours our jobs as trainees entail but really make the effort to see people when you can and to fit in activities around your work commitments. In the long run it is much better for your mental and physical well-being and ultimately it also means that you will be able to perform at a better level.

by Tom Barker

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