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The first month: My impressions so far

"Will I feel completely out my depth?" / "Will they hate me asking loads of questions?" / "Will I be able to get into the swing of things after my year out?"

These were just some of the questions flying around my head in the days, weeks and months leading up to the start of my traineeship at DLA Piper.

Most importantly perhaps, "When will I know if being a trainee there is right for me?".   I think I have already found the answer to the last question just a few weeks in, and I believe this is largely down to the firm I was fortunate enough to join. 

In this short article I will try to paint a picture of what it is like working as a trainee solicitor in DLA Piper's Edinburgh office, what it is like making the leap from carefree student to responsible trainee solicitor, and why I now believe that being a trainee here is right for me.

International graduate induction

I feel like we got the VIP treatment when we joined DLA Piper. Our intake was the first to experience the newly revamped 'International Graduate Induction', designed to reflect DLA's global reach.  Fellow first year trainees from the firm's Australian and Hong Kong offices were invited to join the UK trainees in London. 

The first week included invaluable training workshops on topics like financial and commercial awareness, client care and communication skills, and personal organisation and relationships. The firm's managing partner Simon Levine kicked off the second week, which included excellent talks about the firm's sector approach, the merits of responsible business, and an extremely insightful talk about the importance of mindfulness. 

The Induction was rounded off with a two-day leadership course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, which was undoubtedly my highlight. This involved a variety of activities designed to strengthen our teambuilding and communication skills, including a military obstacle course.  The main theme was working together as a team, and by the end of it the entire group felt like we had known each other forever!  I think we also felt very privileged that the firm had put so much time and effort into making us feel welcome. Where else would you get such an induction?

My first few weeks in the 'real world'

As I embarked on my return journey to Scotland, thoughts turned to starting work in the 'real world'. I knew I would be joining the Employment Law team, but not much beyond that.  I can honestly say that since starting this time last month, I have been made to feel extremely welcome.  The Edinburgh office has a real sense of camaraderie, whether that be among the trainees when we all have lunch together in the club room, or among office staff more generally when we attend events like mid-month drinks.

Straight from the get-go, first year trainees are brought in to work on ongoing matters. In my first week, I sat in on the taking of a witness statement for an employment tribunal and attended a client meeting.  For one of our clients, a large international brewing company, I have been helping to create bi-weekly legal update bulletins and advice notes on things like TUPE and holiday pay. 

The Employment Law team - and all departments according to the other trainees - are very supportive with their trainees. Whilst they ensure we have the tools we need, our supervisors and other senior colleagues are not afraid to give us challenging work.  Although daunting at first, this is exactly the kind of work that pushes us professionally and helps us develop.  Of course mistakes are invariably made, but our supervisors are always understanding and supportive. 

Student to solicitor - what's it actually like? 

One of my main concerns was making the leap from student to 'YoPro'. This was compounded by the fact I had taken a year out after finishing my Diploma - would my brain re-engage?!  

The main difference is that I'm now working as part of a team. While you are kind of on your own at university in that you alone have to meet your deadlines, as a trainee your work is shared across the team.  Rather than working in a bubble as you perhaps do at university, you need to keep lines of communication open.  It's a team effort.

Another big difference is the structure of your day - gone, I'm afraid, are the lie-ins you could expect at university. This just takes a bit of getting used to, and you have to learn whether you're a morning person or a night-owl.  A benefit of the more rigid routine is that once you leave work, you can generally switch off, whereas at university there was always more revision you could be doing.

Why DLA Piper is right for me

The two main things that come to mind when I consider why I've so enjoyed my first few weeks are the variety of the work I've been doing and the general feel of the firm.

Even though I've only been working for four weeks, I feel like I've been exposed to a huge variety of tasks. In my department, I have been working on cases involving gross misconduct, caste discrimination and whistleblowing.  This has involved research, writing letters to clients and even reviewing CCTV footage. 

We are also heavily encouraged to do as much pro-bono as possible and I have been helping out on a project for UNAIDS, something you'd never imagine working on at a corporate firm. I have also been out the office quite a bit, having been through to Glasgow for a User Group meeting attended by the President of the Employment Tribunals in Scotland, as well as going down to Sheffield to attend a training day. 

Harder to describe is the general feel of the firm. One of the things that struck us at the Induction was that - despite its huge international presence - the firm feels very local, and there seems to be a shared set of values across the UK offices and beyond.  Even the fact that I was encouraged to write this article helps me feel like this is the right firm for me, as it adds to the idea that the firm is about more than just being a corporate lawyer.  

So in the end…

Time flies when you're having fun, and the first month has absolutely flown by. I'm taking that as a good sign!  Although the transition from student life to corporate life can be a bit of a shock, I'm delighted to be able to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying my traineeship so far.  

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