Working at a law firm: It’s the small things that leave the final impression
Ruby Kennerley, Second Year Law Student: In the following blog piece, I plan to outline some of the trivial things that often go unlooked but are crucial steps to ensuring you deliver an overall good job
14 July 2017
Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to work at two international law firms; firstly, working as a legal apprentice at Addleshaw Goddard, straight from finishing my A-Levels, predominantly in their banking and commercial sectors. Now, after my first year of my law degree at QMUL I have a fixed term contract at Ince & Co in their aviation department. Something that I have learnt over the past two years, is that although having a thorough understanding and eagerness to learn is crucial to be successful, it really is the small things that leave a final impression.
Taking instructions seems like an easy task, but when faced with a heavy workload and excessive technical legal language, it is crucial that you are focused and remember each instruction. The best way to do this is to always carry a notepad and pen with you, this sounds obvious, but quite often you can overestimate how much your short-term memory can hold. Therefore, ensuring you have an accurate record of the instructions you have been given will ensure that you don’t make any minor mistakes or ask a question that was already told to you. If you then have to quickly move onto another task, the notes can act as a good refresher when you return.
Many people throw around the term ‘commercial awareness’ and law firms expect their trainee applicants to be ‘commercially aware,’ but what does it actually mean? One way to work towards this is to ensure that you keep up to date with current affairs, such as what is going on in the business world, politics and world events. When sat in a law firm, it is almost guaranteed that one of these topics will be mentioned, either because it directly affects their business or because someone finds it a hot topic to talk about. It really reflects well on you if you can engage in a discussion as not only does it show that you understand complex issues in the business world but it also can build a rapport with the lawyers around you. This is particularly important as networking is key in the legal world. I usually read through a news app on the way into work, and watch Question Time every week which analyses the key topics in society. You will be surprised at how many conversations that you can really get engaged with, and as the news story develops, you can lighten the conversation by continuing to have a quick chat non law related. I am also signed up to various websites such as Lawyer2b, which give you a specific legal update.
Relax and be yourself
Starting a placement is often daunting and whilst being a student, sometimes you can worry so much about the hierarchy in a law firm that speaking to anyone senior can feel like a test. However, I found that people really respect you if you remember that you are both human, therefore smiling and asking how their weekend was can show confidence and build a relationship between you. This is not only key for settling in and feeling comfortable, but also because setting a good impression may help you in the future when it comes to apply for a training contract, as I guarantee you will be remembered and not simply in the background. Also, if you are unsure about something, no matter how trivial it is, just ask. Asking questions ensures that you do not get the work wrong, but also demonstrates that you are inquisitive and want to learn. Remember, everyone started off as an intern and worked their way up, if you are conscious of getting the small things right, the rest will flow naturally.