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Why Trainee Solicitors Need to be Resilient

16th November 2018

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to face failures and setbacks without allowing them to dominate your life.

In relation to wellbeing, resilience is a way of being able to handle stressful situations without them impacting your mental and physical health.

When people think about resilience, there are often some misconceptions. For example, resilient people are often, incorrectly, described as being unaffected by pressure. Rather, resilience is more about recognising when you are affected by pressure and stressful situations and learning how to cope with them effectively.

According to Professor Peter Clough (Manchester Metropolitan University) and his well-known MTQ48 questionnaire which is often used as a means of evaluating mental toughness, there are 4 components to this concept:

1. Control. People who score well on this test feel that they are in control of their work and environment. High scorers in the area of Control are able to exert more influence on their working environment.
2. Challenge. People who see challenges as opportunities will seek them out and use them as ways to improve. People who demonstrate less mental toughness see challenges as threats and will try to avoid them.
3. Commitment. This might also be described as tenacity. Mentally tough people will carry out tasks despite the obstacles which get in their way.
4. Confidence. People who exert high levels of self-confidence believe they can succeed. This helps them achieve goals even though they may not necessarily possess greater abilities or aptitudes for certain tasks than someone who has lower self-confidence.

The good news is that resilience can be learned and then continuously developed, meaning we can each ultimately train ourselves to become more resilient.

What are the benefits of being resilient?

Resilient people are likely be calm under pressure and find work stresses easier to deal with. This will lead you to enjoy your work more which will naturally bring more creativity and an upbeat attitude. You will be better at dealing with stress and enjoy problem–solving tasks more than others.

Trainees who have higher levels of resilience are likely to have better organisational skills and they like taking ownership of work and delivering great results. They are great achievers and are given high quality work which helps them to progress quicker.

Resilient trainees are open to new ideas and are keen learners who are prepared to try different approaches. Such trainees are popular with our partners and they are sought out and trusted with their work.

As a result, graduate recruiters look for such qualities when sieving through applications and conducting interviews.

Times when your Resilience may be tested during your Training Contract

Securing a training contract is no mean feat. Competition is fierce and the number of training contracts available is small compared to the sheer number of people who apply.

Once you start your training contract, you'll likely be faced with new pressures many trainees would not have come across before: complex work; demanding hours and responding to clients' needs in time-pressured situations, to name just a few. So how do you exercise resilience both when applying for, and throughout, your training contract? We've listed a number of examples of when you will likely need to exercise resilience.

At the Application Stage

To start with, you have to be resilient to get a training contract. Getting that all important offer requires high levels of focus and determination. With the volume of people applying for training contracts, it is rare to be offered the first and only training contract you apply for. Unfortunately, rejection is often part of the process. Those who are resilient are able to bounce back and not allow these rejections to set them back and put them off applying for more training contract positions.

During the Training Contract

Starting a training contract comes with challenges.

Firstly, you have to learn something completely new. And you have to learn something new every six months as you rotate through different departments. By the time you get to grips with the work in one department it may be time for you to move on to your next seat and start over again. This can add pressure and be extremely stressful for some trainees. That's tough for anyone.

Secondly, you will be managed and supervised in a way that you probably won't be used to. Each of your supervisors will have different management or communication styles and you'll have to adapt to each.

Thirdly, you will need to adapt to working in a professional environment and at the start of your career you'll learn a lot from your mistakes. Your time-keeping, email etiquette, client communication and ability to work to strict deadlines will all be looked at closely. This is a time of great adjustment from being a university student where you are usually granted much more autonomy in terms of your work and have more control over your own deadlines and workloads.

At Qualification

As you approach the end of your training contract, you'll begin to think about your qualification options. It's unlikely that every practice group will be open to taking on a newly-qualified Associate, and so you may have to come to terms with the fact that the favourite seat you might have had during your training contract may not be possible for qualifying into.

How can you develop resilience at university / during your training contract?

Developing your resilience is a very personal thing. We recognise that there is not a one-size-fits-all method, so here are some general tips on how you can develop resilience both at university and during your training contract.

At university:

  • Check if your university runs any resilience or stress awareness workshops
  • Find a mentor to chat about your concerns / careers goals
  • Review your past and think about times when things went well and not so well and identify how you reacted: what helpful or unhelpful actions did you take? Did you learn anything about yourself?
  • Note down everything you have achieved so far to date: it will help strengthen a positive, ‘can do’ outlook
  • Identify successful strategies to keep calm and investigate problem-solving techniques and how these could be useful to you e.g. mindfulness, meditation, taking part in sports, having a supportive network or circle of friends

During your training contract:

  • Have regular catch up meetings with you mentor / supervisor; find a strong role model
  • Take regular breaks and celebrate your successes
  • Think of mistakes as a learning process, develop a habit of using challenges as opportunities to master your skills
  • Be open to new ideas and embrace change which is inevitable in your career
  • Take action. Doing something in the face of adversity brings a sense of control, even if it doesn't remove the difficulty

How do graduate recruiters assess resilience during the recruitment process?

It is possible that you will be assessed for resilience at some point in the recruitment process. This can be through an interview, assessment centre or tests.

Interview

Here are some examples of interview questions designed to assess your resilience:

Resilience Interview Questions

Assessment centres

When attending assessment centres, recruiters may want you to step into unfamiliar situations to test your resilience. How you deal with the unknown may be further tested in case study exercises. For instance, you may be given a scenario and then, a few moments later, you might be given some new information that could alter your decision-making process.

Tests

Resilience is often assessed using online tests, which may be similar in style to psychometric tests.

Remember

Studying and practising law requires a number of skills; it is intellectually challenging and demanding and it is not for everyone.

Legal careers are extremely competitive so don't be overwhelmed by the difficulties in securing a training contract. Have confidence to re-apply if necessary and seek and act upon feedback. It takes practice to get it right.

You are not expected to be perfect and to never be affected by stress or by setbacks. Rather, you learn how to recognise when you may need help and when to ask for it. Being resilient is about finding coping strategies that work best for you and your team.

by Monika Ciereszko

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