If you’ve played Parker Brothers’ Monopoly you’ll know it as a game of chance where progress is dependent on the roll of the dice. There are some elements of skill. To exploit these, you need to understand the rules of the game, and use them to your advantage, buying streets and populating them with houses or hotels. There's also a large requirement for stamina given the duration of a typical game.
The winner will be the player with the greatest perseverance and competitive spirit, coupled with the ability to outfox her opponents. With a large dose of luck added in. A trainee’s experience of a training contract may seem a little like this. There's certainly a lot of moving around to do – the office, not the board – and detailed (legal and procedural) rules to master. Stamina, not to say powers of endurance, will come in useful. A little luck may be involved.
Making a success of a training contract is largely down to a lawyer's aptitude and ability, as demonstrated over the course of two years of hard work.
In its recent report on its work-based learning pilot scheme, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has reported on how the scheme’s participants measured up against the outcomes being judged. This project is looking at an alternative route to assessing the ability of an individual to qualify as a solicitor rather than just spending two years in a lawyer’s office. The details of the pilot, which was largely successful, can be left aside for present purposes. Relevant to my current context are the themes derived from the specified outcomes to be achieved in order to qualify as a solicitor.
Application of legal expertise
Relationships with clients including clear communication skills
Internally-applied skills such as workload management and team working
Knowledge of the business environment
Self-awareness and development
The first four are unsurprising concepts for people training to be solicitors, but I was struck by the last. It implies that participants on the work-based learning training project should take responsibility for their own development.
But is that what trainees do during a training contract?
Trainees are task-driven, an approach which the professional checklists required to be used encourages. The aim is to see as much as possible of the activities of lawyers operating in that area. If you are a trainee starting a new ‘seat’ how high up your agenda would self-awareness and development be placed? It’s a vague idea, probably not given much of a thought. How could it be accommodated?
Let’s say you are about to spend time in the litigation department. You may not be very keen on doing this, but getting experience of contentious work is a requirement for every trainee. The process of litigation has a document-heavy image. Trainees are often asked to wade through files of paper, or review large amounts of electronic documents to decide what needs to be disclosed by their side. It’s vital work directed towards the ultimate success of a case going though the courts and it may even produce a pressure to settle on an opponent. But the work has a repetitive quality which is not seen as providing much of a learning experience. How would you incorporate self-awareness into this context?
Set yourself some goals
What do you want to experience in this seat? Focus on the learning experiences you want to gain. How will you be able to measure your progress by the end of the seat compared with the start?
Not every trainee can see a case in the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal. Even attending a short trial or mediation meeting may be stretching it in a six months’ period.
Write it all down (and keep it to yourself)
But don’t put your list in a bottom drawer. It’s important to review your progress against the goals which you set for yourself to see how you are developing.
Monitor your own performance
In relation to each goal, ask yourself:
What have I done so far to achieve or work towards this goal?
In doing so, what have I learned about my ability to be an effective, professional adviser?
What should I aim to do differently in the future?
Keep it simple
This is not a bureaucratic exercise – it can be kept very brief – but it will be confidence-building, which is what self-awareness is about.
Winning board games will not be achieved by goal-setting if the dice don’t fall your way. Professional training is different. Monopolising your own training so that it becomes your project will assist your professional development.