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Varied work – an active process

Varied work – an active process

Matthew Dow

31/07/2019

Usually, when I ask an individual why they left their previous firm, the typical response is that they wanted a broader range of work.

I was informed by one associate that once they qualified, the firm’s dominant client base, combined with their particular practice area specialism, meant that they quickly became pigeonholed. Consequently, they ended up performing similar legal work on a daily basis. Tasks became routine and their interest in the work began to wane.

So why does work variety matter?

Beyond mere personal enjoyment levels, I think that there are a few elements to address when answering this question.

Diversity of work enhances your ability to understand the nuances of your practice area. For example, you may draft contracts for the unique stages of a commercial deal. Alternatively, you may research and summarise aspects of the law that you have never previously encountered.

Further, distinctive tasks will broaden your legal skills. For example, certain projects may require you to communicate and network across the firm to acquire the information that you need. More admin-heavy assignments may test your resilience. Other tasks will demand close attention to detail to complete the work to a professional standard.

Elsewhere, building relationships with a range of colleagues will improve your day-to-day role. The easiest way to do this is by working closely together on projects – relying on each other for information and mutual strategy discussions. Having an internal network will also help establish your reputation within the department – which is especially important come the qualification stage.

Finally, work variety helps to clarify what you really enjoy and to identify in which area you wish to specialise in the long term. It is likely that you will be choosing a practice area for life on qualification. Therefore, having the complete picture to make an informed decision is crucial.

How does work variety affect trainees?

It is worth considering the variety of your work at the start of your legal career. Most trainees believe that they are merely a passive player that will just take what they are given by superiors. However, if you actively seek out new work opportunities, you can increase the diversity of your experience.

As a trainee in a new seat and being keen to impress, inevitably you will be saying ‘yes’ to every request. Further, given your inexperience, each new task represents a significant challenge. Therefore, variety may naturally arise. Nonetheless, over time there is a tendency to adopt the work that you prefer doing.

In addition, as a trainee, you will also be exposed to many different lawyers within the larger practice area. Each of these individuals will have work that they complete more regularly.

It can be tempting, as you establish trust and friendships with specific supervisors, to revert to them by default for work. This may even become a source of pride – you are their go-to trainee. Yet, this completely natural tendency to collaborate with those you are familiar with may restrict the range of work that you encounter too.

Therefore, to avoid this premature niche specialisation, below are a few tips that have been recommended to me. Hopefully, these will ensure that you achieve a greater selection of daily projects.

Pro bono work

Almost every student wishes to know about the firm’s pro bono opportunities. Yet, when in the office, pro bono work can often be perceived as superfluous and is frequently dropped by stressed trainees as they struggle to manage work commitments elsewhere.

Nonetheless, pro bono work can be a refreshing change from the daily routine. Often, you will be given more responsibility than you receive elsewhere.

In addition, the legal research, drafting and witness interviewing required, offers a unique experience. So, rather than seeing pro bono work as a time obligation, remember it is a great opportunity to enrich your daily routine and develop your legal abilities.

Leading on pro bono projects can also allow you to come into contact with members of the firm that you would not normally encounter and this can help you develop ties that may prove valuable as you progress with your career.

Groups and committees

Large city firms will often have groups or committees featuring employees from across the firm. Typical examples include the art, charity, diversity, women in law and environmental committees.

These groups participate in multiple projects throughout the year that will require careful organisation and extensive planning. This can mean that you can get involved in causes that you care about and projects that are unusual.

In addition, you could have the opportunity to present ideas and updates to senior leadership who often look to firm-wide committees for inspiration. This responsibility could involve analysing surveys, panels and speaking at events – which is a departure from the usual trainee experience.

Sports teams

Likewise, firms may also have societies and sports teams. For example, a lot of firms have five-a-side, touch rugby and netball teams. These sports teams offer a chance to develop informal relationships across the firm. At larger firms, you can even get involved with tours to different offices.

Ultimately, the more people you know, the more secondary connections you make and the more aware you may become of projects going on elsewhere.

Volunteering for tasks

It is common for requests to be emailed around by partners asking if somebody can assist on a task. On seeing such an invitation, trainees may feel the temptation, particularly if they do not have the capacity or previous knowledge, to let the email be answered by more experienced lawyers.

However, these emails offer a real opportunity to learn and to assume responsibility. Pre-existing deadlines may be flexible if you have built good relationships with other stakeholders. Thus, do not always assume that you do not have capacity.

Volunteering for such ad hoc tasks will provide greater diversity to your work. This is because these requests are frequently one-off projects that you would not encounter elsewhere and that you can really make your own.

Be clear and seek out opportunities

On vacation schemes you are encouraged to arrange coffee meetings with individuals who work in areas that you are interested in. Despite this, it is actually quite rare to arrange a time with colleagues to discuss what they do in-depth and express an interest in getting involved in that type of work.

However, do not be afraid to actively seek out individuals and ask to learn more and express an interest in their practice area. Most lawyers will be flattered by your curiosity and they will happily attempt to assist your development. At the very least, you will be on their radar for the next time a particular type of work comes in.

Conclusion

A wide variety of legal and project management work will develop you as a person and as a lawyer and make your day-to-day routine a more enjoyable experience. However, workplace variety is not guaranteed and you can consciously and unconsciously restrict your options through your choices and omissions.

Therefore, go into any legal career with an intention to make the most of opportunities and broaden your horizons. Then actively dedicate the time, build the relationships and make the effort to try to achieve a positive and varied outcome.