The transition from university to the workplace

Once you’ve landed your job as a paralegal or trainee at a law firm, you may be asking what it’s like to actually start. In this article, I will talk about what you might expect at B P Collins and how to hit the ground running at the workplace in general.  

Perhaps the most noticeable shift is adapting to working with real clients. During your law degree / GDL / LPC you will have become used to the countless imaginary scenarios in textbooks but now you will experience cases that are not merely hypothetical. More often than not, real cases are much more complex, and clients don’t come to you with all the facts neatly laid out as they are in a university exam. When taking a new enquiry, I need to think of the right questions to ask so that I am able to pass on the relevant information to the lawyer who will be responsible for the matter.

On a similar note, client care and keeping clients updated with the latest developments is at the core of a solicitor’s role. For example, when asked to carry out some research, I was told to imagine that my end product would be sent directly to the client. I had to think about my presentation and try to avoid legalese that only serves to complicate things further. By approaching tasks in this way, I was able to translate the theory into practice and produce a note that would explain a particular issue to a client. Whilst discussing the debates in the case law may be very interesting, the client just needs to know the answer to their question!  

“Crucially, I have to be organised as I often find tasks have tighter timescales compared to university.”

At university, I might have had a week or two to write an essay but as a trainee I am often given tasks that need to be done within a day, or sometimes even a few hours. Deadlines are also much more important – if you hand in an essay late (I don’t recommend you do this of course!), your tutor might be disappointed but missing a court deadline can lead to increased costs for your client, which is far more serious.

Your team will consist of people from a broader range of backgrounds and ages. At university for instance, most of the people studying with you will be of a similar age. However, now you will be working with people who are at different stages in their life: they may be married, have children or nearing retirement age. It’s important to appreciate that people have responsibilities outside of work that you may not have yourself.

“It’s essential to forge good working relationships across the firm.”

After all, you will be collaborating closely with the whole team so work hard to impress the other trainees, paralegals and support staff – not just the lawyers and partners! If you are available to others, others will make time to assist you when you need help. You will rely on the secretaries and other trainees and paralegals (especially in larger teams such as property and dispute resolution at B P Collins) so make sure you form strong bonds with them.  

Another point to bear in mind, is that you will need to establish a new routine. At university, I found it easy to keep up with my hobbies as there were lots of student groups and I was very flexible in terms of how I planned my week. However, once you are working Monday to Friday 9am – 5.30pm, you will have to be more organised to make time for these other interests. You will also need to stay focussed on your work. This might sound obvious but working in a bustling office – or from home with family members, pets, and the Amazon delivery man at the door! – can prove distracting when compared to a tranquil university library.

For many people starting out as a paralegal or trainee, including myself, this may be your first full-time office job. I had no idea how to use a printer, deal with post or set up meetings. If you haven’t done these tasks before, it’s a good idea to ask someone to show you how as soon as possible. This saves you time and avoids frustration. You don’t want to be figuring out the scanner for the first time when you have to prepare an urgent trial bundle to go out that day!

Having talked about some of the main differences between the workplace and university, I wanted to end with a similarity: you are still learning. The start of your legal career is an exciting time to pick up new skills and get involved. By making the most of your opportunities as a paralegal and trainee, you will become a much better lawyer.

Posted by Alexander Martiyanov

Prior to starting his training contract in September 2020, Sasha completed a work experience placement in the Dispute Resolution department in the summer of 2018. His role is to provide assistance to partners and other fee earners in the practice group he is currently in.