Knowledge for Lawyers November 15, 2013Posted by Travis in Working Life.
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You may have already noticed Helene Russell’s Survey about Knowledge Management (by UK fee earners) if not – read more about the survey, Helene’s dissertation and business on her blog and website. When her email popped into my inbox I immediately hopped on over to do the survey.
I love knowledge sharing, I love learning new things and one of the most enjoyable things about my old job was teaching other paralegals and trainees about property transactions and legal and practical issues, research and precedent work. Now I seem to stand alone – and the only way to overcome this is to ask questions of everyone. Even when I know the answer as it is the only way to learn that isn’t ‘look it up on PLC’.
It has always surprised me the range of training provided at various firms (both for trainees and fee earners) and the range of training between departments.
Helene describes knowledge sharing for the purpose of her survey as:
“knowledge-sharing” requires a positive action which passes knowledge from you to another member of staff within your firm.
It includes, but is not limited to, the following:
• Creating/checking/updating/amending a precedent, contract, practice note, briefing note or other piece of work for your firm’s knowledge database
• Contributing to your firm’s experts database (expert witnesses, counsel etc)
- Presenting a training event within your firm
• Sharing knowledge and experiences through enterprise social media
• Mentoring or supervising junior members of staff (by sharing experience and knowledge, beyond checking post for typos)
• Sharing valuable client information with other members of staff
• Answering queries of other members of staff (involving sharing of experiences and knowledge, beyond a standard quick response)
I rarely write on the blog now with new projects and work taking up a lot of my time – not to mention I have not been inspired by anything recently – no burning urge to write. However, this survey popping into my inbox reprompted my rant of old of lack of knowledge sharing for paralegals after very honestly being told that a fee earner could not spend the time going through a full renewal tenant based lease with me as I was not a trainee. In the time I was in that particular job, none of the trainees qualified into the department and other than myself, none of the paralegal progressed to a fee-earning position and they stayed in what were largely administrative roles. Which was a shame and what a waste. I of course moved on to do my training contract. However, I still had to fight for the training I wanted. Yes I am a little bit of a geek, but I love my job and I want to do it well. But I have always been determined to learn as much as I can – and teach others.
My advice to any trainee (or paralegal or NQ):
- ask as many questions as you can – even if you know the answer.
- Make sure you understand both sides of the same coin.
- Volunteer for precedent work and draft from scratch as a learning experience.
- chat with your boss about their experiences to learn the practical stuff.
- read – learn your industry and your clients as well as your practice area.
- don’t just answer a question – teach.
- help each other out.
So what are you waiting for – go do the survey now.
Professional Skills Course (PSC) August 19, 2013Posted by Travis in Training Contract.
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I have now completed my Professional Skills Course (PSC). The certificate arrived in the mail and to my surprise it listed the modules I had done over the past 18 months (and the dates I completed them on) which seemed like overkill.
What is the PSC?
The PSC needs to be completed before you qualify as a solicitor (electives can also be used to get extra CPD points post qualification).
The PSC is split into core modules :
- Client care and professional standards (two days)
- Advocacy and communication skills (three days)
- Financial and business skills (three days, plus exam)
and Electives (which cover a range of subjects and skills depending on your provider).
You must complete 24 hours of elective courses, of which no more than half may be by distance learning. I did part distance learning and part face to face.
Firms with multiple trainees tend to run their own in-house PSC course (fast-track). My firm takes on one trainee per office and sends us all to a PSC provider to complete at their office. We can choose any location to go to complete the course.
The full list of SRA accredited providers can be found here.
My firm has a favoured provider so I had no choice over who to go to, however we were given freedom of choice with regards to our Electives.
I chose to do time and stress management for my first elective and negotiation for my second. I was advised to choose skill modules rather than technical modules as there was ‘very little I would learn that I wouldn’t have already done in my studies or on the job’. I decided to do the time and stress management as I was intrigued by what they would recommend and negotiation as it was the one skill I felt I needed to improve.
For those of you with the PSC still to come, or electives to pick don’t worry.
- The course is straight-forward (after all you have already done your degree and Post-Grad).
- The Exam has nothing on it that you don’t get taught on the course.
- Choose the electives you think you will enjoy and/or benefit from, but at the end of the day don’t get worked up over it.
Overall the experience was great fun, a nice way to meet other local trainees and wear jeans for a change on a work day. It may be seen by some as a ‘ticking the box’ exercise on the way to qualification – but it did have value for those of us who are a trainee in a bubble to see how other trainees got treated by their firms, the work they got and their experiences. The variation was fascinating.
The Importance of Commercial Awareness August 16, 2013Posted by Travis in Training Contract.
Tags: Commercial Awareness, Training contract
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Two words you will have heard repeatedly over and over at law school, on your LPC, when applying for jobs, on your training contract, when applying for NQ jobs. You will have been told commercial awareness is vital for getting a training contract. Yes it is. But it doesn’t stop being important. It is important every day of your training, it is important when applying for your NQ role and beyond. So what is the difference? (and what does it all mean?). Well everyone I chat too has a slightly different take and a slightly different experience when it comes to commercial awareness – but here is what I think…
Commercial Awareness for Training Contract Applications
For a trainee interview “Commercial Awareness” questions can be hard to tackle. Preparation usually takes the form of keeping up with the news, legal developments etc, but unless you get a question on something you have an interest in, it is hard to formulate an interesting and in-depth response to a commercial awareness question. As a trainee the scope for potential commercial awareness questions can be vast.
You may have read previous blogs about my various TC interviews but if you haven’t there were some Commercial and Legal Awareness questions that went down like a lead balloon – simply because I didn’t have an interest in that particular area of law.
The other side of the coin is, if you get commercial awareness questions that hits the nail on the head with regards to something you have a genuine interest in. You have an opportunity to excel, and it will probably confirm that the firm is the one for you.
Commercial Awareness on your Training Contract
Once you have secured the job you still have to be commercially aware and stay up to date with your legal updates to be great at your job (although you can get by without).
I confess that in some areas of law I am terrible at this and my eyes glaze over and words go in one ear and out the other. The things that stick are the interesting niches, the good stories and the bizarre. If I am not interested, it just does not appeal. The other problem is the sheer wealth of information. There is so much out there – working out what is relevant, what is important to you and balancing this with how much you have time to read can be a challenge in itself.
Personally, I subscribe to relevant updates and blogs in the area of law I want to practice and focus less on the rest. This has both advantages and disadvantages. I try to keep to a few key publications and cull ruthlessly if I find that I am not reading things.
Another type of commercial awareness is learning more about your clients, their priorities and their businesses. Face to face client contact and having more generally conversations with your clients if you can get it is great for this. Networking with existing clients (as well as a potential clients) is a fantastic way to learn more about their business and their needs. As a trainee don’t be afraid of asking questions. Yes you are under the spotlight, but asking questions to get a genuine understanding and using the information you are given is a great thing.
Commercial Awareness for an NQ
Finding the perfect NQ job is about finding the right practice area, finding the right fit in terms of a team and/or firm to work with, and finding the right clients to work with. Or at least client’s whose business you know, understand and can contribute to. For great client satisfaction you NEED to have an awareness of the clients and their businesses to be able to contribute.
And of course all the “on the job” aspects of commercial awareness continue to apply.
At the moment I am building up my Commercial Awareness in preparation for taking on a NQ role. A lot of this is more networking, more client contact and more “front line” work.
What is your take on Commercial Awareness and how has your Commercial Awareness changed over the years as your role has changed?
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Continuing the QOTW…
You should also bear in mind the EXPERIENCE that you have.
3. What previous experience do you have?
As mentioned before Paralegal Roles vary considerably in terms of the experience required or the experience you are expected to have (and the experience you will gain from the role).
Junior roles requiring no experience are often advertised as “trainee paralegal”, “LPC Graduate” or “Admin/Paralegal” roles. If you have no experience and want to get on the job ladder these are the jobs to go for. Your Employer will be expecting the hired individual to grow with the role (and out grow it and move onto better things). Show your prospective employer that you want to grow and develop the role. That you already ideas for the role. Depending on the number of Paralegals they employ (another useful fact to ask friends/contacts) you should be able to push these points home. If the role has the potential to develop all the way to a Training Contract – show that you are there for the duration. If it is a stepping stone to something better, SHOW them that with some experience you can be and will give them that something better. Show that you are investable. (Think Dragon’s Den).
If you already have paralegal experience (and have taken time off to do another job or complete the LPC a similar approach should be taken.
If you are changing firm from one paralegal role to another you will need to justify your change and reassure your employer that you won’t jump ship again for a different paralegal role or Training Contract. Do this by having a clear picture of why you are leaving your current job and why you are applying for this one.
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In Part 1 I explained that you need to have an understanding of your prospective employer’s attitude towards paralegals (and their recruitment process) to understanding what that are expecting from their Paralegals and from you. In part 2 I wish to explore practice areas.
2. What area of law do you wish to practice in?
Following the LPC and/or work experience you should have an area of law that you want to practice (or know the areas of law you don’t want to practice). Ideally you should be trying to find a paralegal role in the area you want to practice. After all if you can show in an interview you have good knowledge of the practice area and that you are enthusiastic about it. It will work in your favour (and you won’t have to worry so much about showing that you are serious about the paralegal role.)
Remember not all practice areas are created equal some areas have more paralegal opportunities than others while others are very hard to come by (particularly in the regions).
Additionally, the responsibilities between different roles varies and what you are expected to do as a paralegal varies considerably not just between practice areas or firms, but even within the same practice area. Make sure you are clear about what you are signing yourself up for. In some circumstances a paralegal role in your dream practice area but where you only have administrative duties may be less beneficial to a practice area you are not that keen on but there is an opportunity to gain lots of transferable skills and run your own case load.
If you are left with applying for a second choice (or have made a strategic decision to do so) don’t let it show – be enthusiastic about the job. After all, happy workers stay in the job longer.
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Last week I got asked by a LPC student (in person) how do you show prospective employers you are serious about a paralegal job and won’t disappear in a few months in pursuit of a training contract elsewhere.
The answer to this question is complex as there are several layers to it. You need to consider:
- the type of firm you are applying for
- the area of law you wish to practice in
- the experience that you have
- what your career aspirations are
- why you want to be a solicitor
Consider these first.
1. Type of Firm
It is no secret, different types of firms have different approaches (and opinions) towards their paralegals (and graduate recruitment). Try your best to get a feel for your prospective employer’s approach.
For example they might:
- not offer training contracts
- Employ Career Paralegals only
- Employ LPC Graduates as paralegals
- Employ Law LLB Graduates as paralegals
- Employ trainees out of their paralegals only
- Employ trainees internally only
- Employ trainees externally only
- only offer fixed term contracts (sometimes with a TC at the end of it)
- offer ILEX as an alternative
Do your research and learn what the rules are. This way you are better prepared for what is in store and you know what your employer is expecting.
QOTW: Are you Networking? #juniorlawyers July 18, 2012Posted by Travis in Networking, QOTW, Working Life.
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Instead of answering this “question of the week” I thought I would put it up for discussion. Should Junior Lawyers be Networking? There has been much debate between colleagues whether the junior members of the firm should be networking, and what sort of networking events they should be attending if any.
And for those of you who do network – do you find it useful or is it just another social?
Please write your views in the comments section or take my quick (less than 5 minutes) survey.
[Been There Done That] No. 3: Be Tough June 6, 2012Posted by Travis in Been There Done That.
Another golden rule: be tough!!
I am quite shy, a bit of a geek and much more analytical than argumentative.
Both supervisors have said “be tough, stand your ground. You know your stuff.”
In my previous job I was confident, running my own files and projects I knew exactly what was going on, what I wanted, what the client wanted and how I was going to get it.
I need to learn to apply the same methodology to the training contract. I still know what I am talking about, I still know what I want from the other side, and I still know what the client wants. So being tougher it had to be…
The advice “be tough” actually worked. I got two leases agreed at the end of friday. Now i’ve just got to be tough and tackle a non-payment of service change and refusal to agree a lease which needs to be agreed (and ideally completed) this week.
“Be tough” might not be enough to get this done, but it certainly won’t hurt.
The 2 year life cycle – myth or reality? June 1, 2012Posted by Travis in Job hunting, Working Life.
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So you are “stuck” in a paralegal job, underpaid, riddled with debt and there is no training contract on the horizon? You may not be unhappy, but it is still not fulfilling the dream.
There is much discussion whether if you have been unsuccessful in your TC hunt at your current firm whether you should move on. Rumour has it that if after two years you are in exactly the same position you should change jobs. True?
Paralegals at both my previous firms tended to move on after a couple of years if they had not been successful in the firm’s two years in advance recruitment. Sometimes this proved successful with them obtaining a training contract in six months, other times the move only prompted another “stuck” feeling (but usually due to the workplace environment rather than the lack of TC).
Regardless of whether the 2 year life cycle of the TC hunting paralegal is true or not – you should always be on the lookout for good available opportunities. Something better could always come along (and if nothing else a job offer elsewhere might make your current firm assess/reconsider your suitability for a TC).
I don’t think it is essential to your career progression to firm hop every two years as a paralegal (after all you want to show commitment) but you need to make sure you are actually getting progression.
When may it be a good idea to move on?
1. They have said there is no TC available.
2. If your firm recruits 2 years in advance and you have been unsuccessful so far
3.You have failed to get a TC with your current firm with your current CV and you will be applying yet again, with the same CV (and to other firms with the same CV as the last round).
4.You don’t really want a TC at your current firm but they *might* offer you one
5. You are bored and not adding anything to your CV – even as a paralegal they should still be serious about your career progression
6. There is no internal application process (if a larger firm) and you feel your needs/career progression are not being considered.
When is it not necessarily a good idea?
1. When there are no other job offers – a job is a job and money is money.
2. when you still have a shot at getting a training contract
3. When you love your job
But – don’t be swayed by promises of good things. Promises can be broken – Make sure they act on them.
I don’t know whether the 2 year life cycle is a myth or a reality – but I can see merit for the argument. And many friends agree – usually the problem is finding a new job to move to.
Please add your opinion in the comments.
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We all know that we would bend over backwards for a regular client. My training firm picks up a lot of work through word of mouth, and simply being in a convenient location for the potential client. Often non-regular clients walk through the door with really really really urgent work that needed to be done yesterday.
The advice: if it is really really really urgent work it is more likely to go abortive, and you will have spent your time doing work for nothing – get payment upfront/on account before committing your time, after all if it really is genuinely urgent the client won’t mind.
This post is part of the “been there done that” series the aim of which is to capture the nuggets of wisdom from my trainee supervisors, on all matters from client care, to drafting and negotiations, to their own training contract.