The first year in any role can be the trickiest to navigate, and potentially have the biggest influence on the rest of your career. This is as true for young lawyers as it is for those in any difficult profession.
The legal industry provides its own unique set of challenges for those entering it, and these challenges can make or break a career.
These are some of the challenges that await you in the first stage of your legal journey:
Building a network
By building a strong network of experienced lawyers around you, you can also gain mentors, who can provide you with support in the early stages of your role. However, finding a mentor can be difficult when there is a lack of senior role models, especially those that are female.
According to research by the Financial Conduct Authority, only 14% partners at private equity firms, hedge funds and other financial services companies are female, leaving a gap in potential role models for younger women entering the field.
Be sure to keep your eyes open for those who are providing you with relevant, practical advice in your workplace, as this is truly invaluable when it comes to your progression.
Events like the Women in Law Summit bring together hundreds of women from the law sector, in a day full of networking opportunities, inspiring talks and practical workshops.
Working long hours, and lack of flexible working
Lawyers have a reputation for burning the midnight oil, and it’s all too true, especially for those in the first stages of their career.
A survey by Legal Cheek of over 2,000 trainees and junior lawyers at the 60 leading UK-based corporate law firms, found that on average most workers until at least 7pm, with juniors in some firms working until 10pm on average.
If you do get into a routine of working long hours, the most important thing to remember is to not miss sleep as a result. 8 and a half hours sleep is the ideal amount to avoid negative effects on your health, so it’s worth going home in time to get them, as it could help you feel on top of your game.
In addition to this, working hours in the legal sector can tend to be less flexible than others. Whilst employees with at least 26 weeks continual service have the legal right to request flexible working, few do, and many law firms cap their days working from home at 1 or 2 a week, regardless of circumstance.
Read more: Is lack of flexible working a barrier for women in the legal industry?
It’s no secret that the UK law sector carries a competitive job market. According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the number of solicitors in the UK passed 140,000 for the first time last year. And that’s just those that are certified.
These figures mean it can be tough to stand out as a trainee or junior lawyer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take extra steps to shine.
Read more: Use your challenges to your advantage: Q&A with Millicent Grant
In the information age, staying on top of the latest developments – even in a field you’re an expert in – can be daunting.
Thanks to the power of the internet, as a trainee you can quickly find almost any information around case law that you need. However, so can your clients.
It’s now all-too-common for lawyers to walk into their first meeting with a prospective client, only to find that the client has already done their homework on the law surrounding the case themselves. This makes it tricky for the lawyer, who has to work even harder to prove themselves as the expert.
You can’t choose the work, or the clients
This can be true for lawyers at any stage of their career – if you need to make ends meet, you need to take on any work you can get.
As a trainee, you’ll be trying to please your boss, so it’s likely that you’ll be taking on anything from note-taking to booking meeting rooms. But everybody has to start somewhere.
Once you’re qualified to take on clients, you’ll quickly find that some of them can be easier to work with than others, whether because of their personality, or their business. As an example, those working in commercial law will often have to associate themselves with large companies that many would see as unsavoury.
You can stay on top of this by ensuring you set your own limits. Whilst you’ll have to do all sorts of jobs as a junior, don’t let yourself get overworked – tell somebody you’re at capacity. And once you start working with clients, consider your long-term reputation as a professional, before you consider the pay packet.
Women in Law Summit returns to London next year. To subscribe to the event newsletter, click here.