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The London trainee journey: First seat to fourth seat

March 2021: We asked newly qualified associates Hugh Brünjes, Alexis Nicholas and Anna Rawlence to look back on the steep learning curve of the two-year training contract in London. They share their thoughts on everything from overcoming imposter syndrome to gaining confidence and why you should always ask questions.

You'll learn a lot in your first seat…

AN: "The biggest learning curve of my first seat was to appreciate that everyone has a specific way of doing things, and so to always ask how things should be done—essentially, never assume! It is far easier for both you and the team if you fully understand what is expected of you from the start, even down to how a piece of work should be presented. It saves time and embarrassment of having to go back and correct seemingly minor things."

AR: "Getting acquainted with the "lingo" and the systems was probably the steepest learning curve during the initial weeks."

HB: "Learning to manage time, prioritise tasks and responding appropriately to requests from partners and associates, as well as clients, was probably the steepest learning curve."

…The pace of work varies between practices

HB: "My second seat presented some of the positive challenges you can expect in a smaller team, with more responsibility for specific workstreams in deals and more oversight of the entire transaction process. This latter point is especially true because the deal sizes were generally smaller."

 AN: "Being in a department where deals lasted a lot longer, compared to the faster-paced deal cycle of my first seat, meant I had to get used to the fact that my development would be slower paced. I tended to do different tasks only once, whereas in my first seat I had been able to repeatedly do each task and so was able to feel like I really honed my skills to become competent at a faster rate."

Gaining speed and confidence in your second seat…

AN: "By the time you start your second seat you are more comfortable with, and faster at completing, more basic tasks, so you are in a stronger position to contribute to more significant work and look to understanding the fuller picture of matters. As you become more confident, you can begin to offer more thoughtful contributions and ask more relevant questions, all of which add to your legal development."

HB: "My first-seat supervisor was excellent in that she gave me the confidence to take ownership of tasks, which served me well going into my second seat. Specifically, I was taught how I could be better organised and properly manage a workstream within a wider transaction."

 …Everyone feels out of their depth sometimes

HB: "I think there is a healthy culture of feedback at White & Case which assures you of what you are doing right and what needs improving. This helps to alleviate any form of 'imposter syndrome'."

AN: "The most important thing is to take the time to try to understand what it is that is confusing you. You supervisor or team members will always be willing to help you learn and you should never feel bad about asking." 

Adapting to working and living overseas…

HB: "The overseas seat was a huge step personally and professionally, and one which was immensely rewarding. The work presented unique challenges with a greater variety of clients and jurisdiction-specific quirks. I grew a huge amount as a trainee, grappling with a new working culture, lifestyle and variety of work." 

AN: "Being in a new environment in my overseas seat meant personally having to adapt and be a lot more independent. As being only one trainee in a location or team, you don't have the "safety net" of your trainee cohort to fall back on, and you are given far greater responsibility and independence."

Gaining confidence by the end of the trainee programme…

AN: "The confidence and independence you gain over the course of your seats is huge. The two years really do provide you with the time and experience to learn how to be a successful associate. You are not expected to pick everything up immediately, but if you apply yourself and are keen to learn, you will build your skills, confidence and be prepared for the next step in your career."

AR: "I would say the biggest difference is my confidence. My training contract has taught me that trainees are valuable assets to a team and that the more you put in, the more your confidence will grow." 

Top advice for future trainees

AR: "The network and relationships you develop are one of the most important things you can do to ensure success at the Firm. Stronger professional relationships allow for better communication."

AN: "You have the ability to shape your own career more than you first might think. It can be useful to discuss your ambitions and thoughts, and to think about where your career might take you in terms of department, specialism and even location."