Paralegal to Trainee: my challenges and what to expect

Following her law degree, Misha obtained a Paralegal role with a local law firm and continued as a Paralegal until commencing her Training Contract in 2022.

Misha found the transition from student to full-time Paralegal a challenge, and navigating the working world came with a host of new experiences. Working as a Paralegal prior to commencing your training contract is an invaluable experience and you will benefit from a huge number of transferrable skills, however the transition from Paralegal to Trainee was just as challenging as the transition from student to Paralegal! Misha is in almost finished her third seat and shares her challenges (and how she dealt with them!) when moving from Paralegal to Trainee Solicitor.

Be prepared to know nothing and get out of your comfort zone

My biggest struggle when ‘transitioning’ from Paralegal to Trainee was coping with the feeling that I knew nothing. As a Paralegal, I worked in a single area of law and I developed a strong understanding of this area, meaning I could carry out my tasks quickly and efficiently. To put it bluntly, I knew what I was doing on a day-to-day basis.

When I started my training contract and moved over to a different department, I started from square one. I had a very limited knowledge of the law and found that I had to ask what felt like very basic questions again – something I wasn’t doing in my Paralegal role! It was unsettling having to go back to basics, and a real sense of imposter syndrome set in.

What is important to remember is that as a Trainee, you are there to learn. No one expects you to know everything there is to know about your seat, and how to draft every document. In fact, asking questions about the law and legal documents is a good thing, and only conveys your competence and willingness to learn! The feeling of knowing nothing will happen every 6 months when you move seat, so it is always important to remember that you are there to learn – embrace the unknown!

The change of expectations

As a Paralegal, you are expected to know your job and carry out your tasks with less supervision, especially if you have been a Paralegal for a long period of time. There is obviously an expectation to perform well as both a Paralegal and a Trainee however in my experience, I found that the expectations as a Trainee are initially lower than those as a Paralegal. As a Paralegal you are almost expected to know the role from day one. However, as a Trainee is only in a department for 6 months at a time, there is more of an expectation to develop and learn at a much quicker pace.

To combat this challenge, I ensure that I go through any feedback thoroughly and ask questions, particularly if I am unsure of the reason for any amendment to my work. By actively reviewing feedback and asking questions, you begin to understand why changes have been made to your work and are more likely to remember the reasoning behind those changes. This means that, the next time you are asked to undertake a similar task, you can reflect on your previous work and will have a better understanding of how to complete the task going forwards.

I also find reading and training in my downtime to be particularly useful if I am unsure about a particular area of law.  Using resources like Practical Law and Lexis PSL can be particularly useful when trying to do some reading or research on a particular area of law. As well as this, some firms will have internal training courses. At Shoosmiths, we have a system called Horizon, where we have optional training courses we can undertake online in our free time, and I make sure to use this to gain a fundamental knowledge of my department!

Get used to adapting

Another challenge when making the move from Paralegal to Trainee is getting used to team changes and adapting frequently. As a Paralegal, you get comfortable with your team, you know how your colleagues like to work, and can produce high quality work that fits the stylistic preferences of your team. When you become a Trainee, you move seats every 6 months, and have to adapt to new personalities, ways of working and stylistic preferences, which is almost as challenging as learning the law!

You wouldn’t be a Trainee if you hadn’t already proved yourself to be competent and a good fit for the firm. Getting used to team changes and stylistic preferences is just a case of learning to adapt, listening to what your team want and having attention to detail when it comes to your work. If you notice that a particular colleague changes your work in a stylistic way, make a note to meet these preferences the next time they ask you to complete a task! Try saving the feedback into a specific outlook folder that you can look back on when completing a similar task for the same supervisor. The benefit of moving departments every 6 months is that you will experience different styles of working and can adopt techniques and styles you prefer for when you qualify.

You should build your own brand

As a future solicitor, it is important to build a network of other solicitors and professionals to work on your personal brand, build a reputation and potentially bring new business to the firm once you qualify.

As a Paralegal, I was less worried about personal brand outside of work, and building an external reputation. As a Trainee, I found myself wanting to work on my personal brand more, to build my reputation in my local area and build a network of other solicitors and professionals to reach out to. There is more emphasis on attending business development events to promote the firm, and becoming more involved in recruitment events. To branch out, I joined my local Junior Lawyers Division to build a network with other junior lawyers in a similar position to me. I also took up more business development opportunities to promote the firm and network with other professionals.

You’ve got this!

All-in-all, you will bring a lot of valuable skills with you from your Paralegal experience, but that doesn’t mean you will breeze through your Training Contract without a hitch! You will need to remember that as a Trainee, you are there to learn, and you will be expected to learn and develop at a quicker, more demanding pace however, if you hadn’t already displayed your competency you wouldn’t have secured your Training Contract! Take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come, and as long as you show a willingness to learn and take on board feedback, you will impress!

You may also be interested to read Kelsey’s blog where she discusses skills that can take you from a student to a paralegal.

If you have any questions you can email us at [email protected] or have a look at some frequently asked questions here.

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This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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