Amanda Sime talks about her experience of starting her training contract during the pandemic
I started my Training Contract on 1st September 2020; smack bang in the middle of the current COVID-19 pandemic. When I’d imagined my Training Contract over the years, I had always imagined it as a very ‘face-to-face’, shadowing based experience. This is not something that is available in the current climate!
I am lucky to work in a ‘small’ firm; we all know each other well and all of the team members have each other’s phone numbers, which we constantly ring. This sounds basic, but it has made all the difference to being able to work effectively from home. Being able to pick up the phone to ask a question, just as I would shout a question across the office floor, has been very beneficial to all of us. Each morning at 9am, we have a group WhatsApp call to discuss our days ahead; this ranges from talking about the serious work tasks we need to urgently complete to what we’re having for tea that night. This is exactly what we used to do each morning in the office over a cup of coffee, and it really helps to still be able to bounce ideas off each other and ask any questions needed. This also prevents us from feeling isolated.
On the flip side of this, working from home has made me a more confident Trainee. In the office, I would often ask questions I was 99.9% sure I knew the answers to, just for some reassurance. Now that I work physically alone, and although I could ask any member of the team on the phone, I am forced to trust my own instincts and believe in my experience and what I have learnt over the past few years. I do feel that working from home has made me a better, more confident and more efficient Trainee.
We, as a nation, have had to adapt to new and more technological ways of working. If you had told me last year that serious, multi day trials would take place via Microsoft Teams, I would have first asked you what an earth Microsoft Teams was, and then I would have laughed. “Important hearings can’t take place outside of a courtroom!” I would have said; and I would have been wrong. I believe it is the same concept for training contracts; if I had been offered a Training Contract last year and been told I had to do it all from home, I would have panicked. Now, with experience of working well from home throughout the pandemic, I am taking it in my stride pretty well. As solicitors, we have to be able to adapt quickly to keep up, as has been proven by the events of 2020 so far.
I have nothing to compare my Training Contract to, as I have only ever done it from home, but I see no reason why partially home-based Training Contracts cannot carry on into the future, when a mix of office and home working will no doubt continue. If you work in firm with an ‘open door’ policy, this will simply convert to an ‘open phone’ policy. With all of the technology we have available now, it is very possible your Training Contract can be just as beneficial online as it would be in an office-based environment. My Training Contract diary is still filled in and sent to my supervisor weekly; it is just emailed rather than printed out.
It is very easy when working from home to let your job consume you; to log on the minute your eyes open, and to be working late at night while half watching the latest Netflix series. I think this is especially true for trainees who want to make a name for themselves and prove just how great they are.
Luckily, my employers are keen to make sure we take time off and do not work too many hours. I remember at the beginning of lockdown, when we had lots of staff on Furlough and we were busier than ever, I asked if I could work the Easter bank holidays and was horrified to be told no, that I would burn myself out; but my bosses were right. Even today, the first day of a really busy week for our department, my line manager rang me to tell me I needed to book some days off and make time for myself. If Training Contracts are to continue taking place at home, it is really important for Trainees not to feel like that have to work every hour to prove that they have what it takes.
I am lucky that my first seat is in Family, the department in which I have worked for the last 2 years. If everything is still the same when I move to my Employment seat, an area in which I have never practised, I can imagine I will be more apprehensive. However, this pandemic has cost us enough this year; we cannot let it affect our careers too.
NOTE: This article was first published in Liverpool Law, the online magazine published by Liverpool Law Society, November edition: https://www.liverpoollawsociety.org.uk/services/liverpool-law-magazine/