Starting your Training Contract: What to Expect
9th October 2017
The first few weeks of a training contract often seem to be quite a mystery, with terms like 'PSC', 'induction' and 'starting your seat' thrown around without much context given by those using it.
Before I started, I wasn't quite sure what to expect or what was awaiting me and so therefore, in this blog I am going to try and get rid of a bit of the mystery behind starting and try to give you an insight into my first month or so at Shearman. These first six weeks can be split easily into three distinct stages; the PSC, the induction week and then the first few weeks in my seat. In this post, I am going to take each of them in turn, to give you a flavour of what I've been up to and what it is like to start your legal career at Shearman.
PSC stands for Professional Skills Course. This is a compulsory programme, set out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which all trainee solicitors, no matter what firm they are at, have to do. Included in it are three compulsory modules as well as 24 hours of electives. It is the compulsory modules that formed the first 10 days of our training contracts where we were based at the University of Law.
These compulsory modules that we studied were Client Care, Finance and Business Skills and Advocacy. We were in one class with all the other trainees in the Shearman intake so it was really good fun getting the chance to spend time, after the summer break, with your intake, who over the course of the LPC, became good friends. Another bonus was that the course was 9.30-4.30 on most days, which gave us a lot of time to enjoy the evenings, which was even better when we were being paid to be there.
At the end of the Finance and Business Skills course there was an exam that we had to pass, which did mean there was some revision needed. After a summer away, it was difficult to get back into the swing of things but it was a lot easier to motivate yourself to revise on the weekend when we realised this was our last ever exam. Personally, I particularly enjoyed the advocacy course as it was all practical. It culminated in a mini-trial between us as we were split into two teams, with us all taking on different roles, playing witnesses, cross-examining and giving opening and closing statements. It probably helped the enjoyment that my team won!
After the PSC came our induction week. This was all based within Shearman's office, and there was a distinct ‘first day at school’ feel to everyone arriving in their best suits, slightly nervous as we were welcomed to the firm by the training principal. The obligatory, terrible security pass photos were taken as we all ate far too many of the firm cookies (Roll on Friday wasn't wrong about these.) The week itself was packed full of information with presentations ranging from how to work with your PA to the history of the firm to the mentoring programme. These were punctuated with talks from all the different practice groups, giving us a great overview of the type of work we can expect to get involved in within the next two years. We also had a few professional development workshops, learning how to communicate effectively within the office environment and a morning working on our presentation skills.
During this week, we also had lots of networking lunches and drinks receptions to allow us to get to know everyone in the firm, from the PAs to our supervisors, our potential mentors and partners. A highlight was on the Friday evening where the firm put on a drinks reception, inviting the whole office to come and welcome us to the firm. This was followed by going out for dinner with the second year trainees, which was a great chance to get to know them all a bit better and really start to feel like you were part of the team.
First few weeks at seat
After a final professional development welcome lunch near Spitalfields market, we got ourselves ready to start in our seats. Most of us took the few hours we had on the Monday to pop to our offices and set up our emails, meet our supervisors again and set up our voicemails. Shearman is quite different to a lot of firms as they decide your first seat for you. A lot of thought is put into who is going to supervise you and what team you are going to be in. I was put in Antitrust which is our competition team. That very first evening, James Webber, a partner in our team and a leading global antitrust lawyer called me and another trainee into his office. He sat us down and asked us what we knew about antitrust, which, as you can imagine was absolutely nothing. This wasn't a problem as James then proceeded to explain, for an hour and bit, the intricacies, history and structure of antitrust law, both in the UK, the EU and globally. This partner contact, literally from day one, with someone recognised as one of the leading lawyers in their field, was an amazing learning experience. It allowed us to feel like we were part of the team, but also showed us how much everyone, at all levels in Shearman, cares about your development.
Work wise, I have been fortunate enough to work on some pretty diverse matters, and I have been shocked at how international this work has been. Every bit of work I have done has had an international element, from checking merger filing requirements in South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and China to working on a French acquisition, in French. The work as well is diverse, from drafting an agenda to a call to drafting emails to even drafting some small parts of contracts. Alongside this, there has also been an element of the so called 'traditional trainee tasks', such as proofreading and researching, but these have not been the day-to-day reality like it is at other firms.
Another highlight of these first few weeks was being invited to the Global Antitrust Retreat in Brussels. The firm are paying for all the antitrust lawyers from all the offices around the world to go to Brussels to all get to know each other better as a global team. The fact they are paying for the trainees as well to go makes you feel really valued and shows they are really pushing our development going forward.
One other surprise about starting was also the amount of pro bono work I have been able to get involved with. With this, I have been writing letters for Liberty, researching torture for a Human Rights organisation as well as attending a legal clinic. These have all been great opportunities to get involved in matters at a level that is far beyond the usual trainee involvement in work. At the legal clinic I got to interview the clients myself, with the support of an associate, and then write the follow up letters and send out the final draft myself.
Shearman has been very forward in getting us involved in this and really emphasises the importance of it, both for you as a development opportunity but also, and more importantly, to the wider community.
Another thing about starting at my seat that I didn't quite realise is quite how much the formal professional development continues. We have had more of the PSC electives over lunches, some formal department training sessions and other soft skill development sessions. These are often led by partners within the firm and followed by a drinks reception, which allows you to expand your personal network and really get to know everyone in the office. We also have had a lot of opportunity to get involved in Graduate Recruitment events, and I am actually writing this post on the train back from Edinburgh after spending a lovely night there.
There are also many other social opportunities at the firm as well, with Friday drinks a regular occurrence and I have already played rugby for the Shearman team. Another exciting thing is that I am part of the trainee social committee, and plans are underway for our next trainee social. For these socials, Shearman gives £30 a head, three times a year, for the trainees to go out and socialise as a group, helping to not only reward your hard work but also encouraging us to build relationships with our fellow trainees.
As you can see, it has been a very busy 6 weeks or so, but also it has been hugely rewarding. I have tried to give you a bit of an insight into what starting your training contract at Shearman actually involves, and some of the things that I hadn't realised at the start. It has been challenging, but one moment that really sticks out is my supervisor one day asking me to check my emails, and there was an email with our payslip, and she said congratulations on your first payday as a lawyer – a nice feeling!
What has been really reassuring through these weeks is that everything we have been told about the firm in the build-up is ringing true; it is a truly supportive culture, with incredible work set against a backdrop of fantastic global opportunities.
by Mike Poolton