There is a Chinese Proverb which states "A man who asks is a fool for five minutes. A man who never asks is a fool for life." It's a great motto to apply to your professional career – we can always learn from others around us and improve. Hopefully the five points I've discussed provide an answer to the first of many questions.

1. Never be afraid to ask questions - when you join a practice area, you are working with people who specialise in that field. They are interested in the work and will be pleased if you are too. There will always be occasions when people are short on time and unable to explain issues in detail, but if you show you are keen to learn, people will make time to help you. Don't worry about how questions will come across - it's ok not to know the answer to something. Nobody knows everything and that's why lawyers (and trainees) do research, so don't be afraid to ask if you don't understand.

2. Speak up about workload - particularly if you are in a large team with several partners; it’s likely that most colleagues won’t know your capacity and workload. This might mean people pass you work when you are already very busy on another matter. Never be afraid to tell them, people will be much happier if you are honest and say you will struggle to meet their deadline in advance rather than telling them at the last minute or, worse, missing the deadline all together. Equally, sometimes people can assume that everyone else in the team has given you work and not pass a task across to you. If you are quiet – speak up!

3. Get to know personalities in the team - everyone will have their own style of working. When people ask you to do a task, some will like a call, or a face-to-face chat to run through what you’ve found, while some prefer an email. When it comes to written work, some people prefer to see how you arrived at your answer (for example, what books and cases you looked at), whereas others like a short and concise answer. At the start of your seat, ask people what they would like, but as you work with them, you’ll begin to understand how everyone prefers to operate.

4. Think about the big picture - there will be a reason for everything you're asked you to do. An important step to being a valued member of the team is understanding how the task you are doing feeds into a wider project and what the next step might be. For example, if you are asked to research the answer to a client query, offer to draft an email to the client based on what you’ve found. Team members will appreciate you offering to go the extra mile, although they might not always take you up on the offer, it shows that you are actively thinking about what you are doing and how you can help.

5. Timescales and budgets are important - the main focus of everything we do is to provide a high-quality service to clients, that is good value for money. Often this means a price or budget for a piece of work will be agreed. If not, there will be an idea of what is a reasonable cost. It is always a good idea to ask roughly how long you should spend on a task before you start. The same applies for timescales – some questions need an answer straight away, whereas with others there might be less time pressure. If you have that discussion before you start, everyone knows what’s expected and it avoids any confusion.


    Eric Johnstone

    Legal Director