As increasing attention turns to rising salaries, the Great Resignation and disciplinary action in the legal profession, it’s tempting to assume we know what incoming lawyers are thinking and feeling right now. The picture appears to be bleak.
We launched the Future Lawyers’ Survey 2022 to listen to incoming trainee solicitors (‘future trainees’). Amidst the stories, how would they describe the way they are feeling? Do they have concerns right now? What are their plans for the future?
At TCLA, we want to bring attention to these views. Our 1-1 calls with future trainees, trainees and associates over the past month have opened our eyes to a vast spectrum, from the individuals who are excited and confident, to those who have a deep desire to become a lawyer but are also battling challenges stemming from their background, mental health, circumstances, and beyond.
The 315 future trainees who completed the Future Lawyers’ Survey 2022 are the lawyers of the future. By hearing and responding to the views, needs and concerns of young lawyers, we believe that law firms will develop their ability to attract, support and retain their future leaders.
Of the 315 respondents who completed the survey, 80% had secured their training contracts with City law firms, 11% with regional law firms and 4% with law firms based outside the UK.
Section 1 – Preparation
The first section asked the respondents the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements. The key findings are as follows:
48% of respondents somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I feel prepared for my training contract’.
63% of respondents somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I know what to expect when I start my training contract’.
71% of respondents somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I have concerns before starting my training contract’.
The above questions were followed by an open comments section, with the respondents asked to expand on why they selected their chosen options. A selection of the 100+ comments are included below:
“I did my final year of uni and got my TC offer in 2020 – in the middle of the pandemic. I dont think any of what has happened has really sunk in and although my LPC is face to face now, I feel like starting at the firm in August will be a real big culture shock of actually leaving the house. My social skills have really suffered during lockdown and I was never a super social person to start with so I’m really worried about having to show myself in the best light when I realise I’m even more nervous about the process than I would have been a few years ago. I also have a lot of imposter syndrome and worry that I genuinely don’t have the right skills to be a value add trainee.”
“I have no idea what to expect. I come from a working class background and have never experienced anything like this before. Even knowing what to buy for work clothes is difficult.”
“I have five years’ prior experience as a paralegal, so I understand how law firm’s operate, how to deal with clients and run transactions.”
“I feel like I spent so much time trying to secure a training contract, but now that I have one lined up, I have no idea what to expect. No one seems to talk about life after securing the TC – only the lead up to it!”
“Not much information on the Internet post-TC offer – most information is congratulating which is great but it would be lovely to have some info about what I can do in the two years before I start”
“Never experienced working in an office setting or had much exposure to professionals outside of uni networking events. Covid – during vac scheme wasn’t given ‘real’ work, therefore, lack substantive understanding of the day-to-day work. Imposter syndrome – though attended a high ranking RG, the rest of the cohort has a high number of privately educated and/or Oxbridge backgrounds. They seem much more confident.”
“Feel as if there’s only a certain amount you can feel prepared! Due to COVID and restrictions, it’s been 10 months since my VS and I’ve still not seen the firm’s office!”
Section 2 – Concerns
In the second section, respondents were asked to identify their top three concerns, if any, about their training contract. The most common concerns the respondents identified were as follows:
- Work-life balance or hours (46%)
- Job performance (39%)
- Making a good impression (30%)
- Feelings of imposter syndrome (29%)
- Managing the workload (25%)
Note, the percentage reflects the number of people who selected their option as one of three.
Respondents were asked to explain why they selected the options they did. In doing so, several themes were prevalent:
- Respondents commonly cited the impact of the working hours on their mental health.
- Respondents disclosed concerns over their ability to perform the role well, often for fears of being disadvantaged by their ethnicity, disability, background, mental health, circumstance, or particular personal traits (e.g. introversion).
- Respondents were concerned over their lack of experience, particularly due to the limited opportunities to meet their firm during the pandemic, their lack of prior legal experience, or their view of the gap between academia and working life.
A selection of the comments across the range of views have been included below:
“In essence, my concern is transparency – I don’t want to constantly be shocked by the core elements of working at a city law firm. Regarding hours, it is more so how the pandemic has worsened hours. I understand working 12-14 hour days is the norm for my firm but I don’t know how much the pandemic has worsened that. If I knew what the hours were, I’d feel a lot more reassured. It would help me build good habits in advance of the TC so I can do well on the job whilst maintaining the priorities in my personal life (spending time with family, finding time to exercise etc). Also, I would like to learn about how supervisors are managing trainees during the pandemic and how wellness programmes actually help. I think supervisors are incredibly important to a trainee’s development, so understanding their demands in light of the pandemic would be make sure I’m prepared for how I would work them (e.g. how will they help me manage my workload, when will they expect me to respond if it’s late on a Sunday etc). In terms of wellness programmes, I think these are fundamental in helping lawyers enjoy the job and achieve long term success. I know a lot of firms roll such programmes out as meaningless PR, but examples of tangible impact would make me feel very confident that the firm will support me if and when I need it.”
“I feel prepared and think everything else I’ll learn on the job.”
“I know that the work life balance is not going to be like other jobs and have prepared for this. But what I find harder to prepare for is what my superiors will be like and how I can navigate my relationships and the workload so I will qualify as a lawyer after 2 years. Personalities and group dynamics are things I can’t control, and Im also worried that qulaification might be somewhat dependant on if youre a particular character from a particular background which is easier if you have similarities with your cohort/superiors and you are able to build that rapport.”
“As someone with a disability, my number 1 concern is whether I have chosen the right career for myself or whether I’m pushing myself to the limit too much. That’s why I’ve also chosen mental health, as I believe the work/life balance will have a massive impact on the time I currently dedicate to my mental health.”
“As a Black female from a non-Russel Group university, I definitely have feelings of imposter syndrome. I feel I am more likely to magnify in my mind a mistake I may make as a trainee due to this.”
“I ticked all of the boxes other than ‘whether it’s the right firm/profession’, but I think my many concerns stem primarily from impostor syndrome. I’m concerned that I’ll be unable to make a good impression, build relationships, perform well, endear myself to partners, etc. because I’m not sure I have faith in myself – I’m always waiting to make an error or for someone to figure out that I’m really not up to scratch! I’m the first person to go to university in my family, and I had no contacts in law prior to gaining my paralegal job – a lot of my anxiety is bound up with trying to gain an understanding of the way firms operate, what’s expected of me, and how I can prove myself and show myself competent to be trusted.”
“The problems I am scared of are actually quite unique. I come from a strict Muslim/cultural background – which has prevented me from even having a phone or having any social media. For me the fear I have is that people will judge me for not being social (in terms of going to the bar after work or not having LinkedIn). This has been a big part of my insecurities and I don’t know how I will overcome that during my TC.”
“I am scared the salary/prestige will not be enough, long-term, to make up for long hours. I worry about how I will balance a career and wanting to make partner with wanting to take time out to have children at some point in the future. I don’t know how to approach women in the legal profession with this query. I get worried I will underperform and lose my TC/won’t get an associate job.”
Section 3 – Law Firm Support
The third section asked the respondents how they felt about the support they were receiving from their law firms.
- 40% of respondents somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘I am satisfied with the support my law firm is providing me with before my training contract’ .
- The most common forms of support they were receiving included social/networking events (50%), email updates (32%), none of the above (30%) or HR/Graduate Recruitment presentations (23%).
- 61% of respondents somewhat agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ‘If I had any concerns, I would be comfortable raising this with my law firm’.
Many respondents reported very positive experiences with HR and graduate recruitment. Equally, many respondents cited fears over the consequences of disclosing information, as is reflected in the below comments:
“The early talent team have been so approachable and open to conversations about all sorts of things. I have already spoken to them about my concerns of moving career and they have been nothing but helpful. I would have no qualms reaching out to them again.”
“I feel like it’s not my place to bring these up as I don’t want to be seen as a liability. Especially if this is to do with too much workload as this is something that you essentially sign off when you accept that training contract offer.”
“My career is in their hands for the next few years. I do not want to even vaguely antagonise them before I’ve even started.”
“Don’t want to make a bad impression with Grad rec Could affect seat choices etc if always emailing/bothering them – at least that’s my perception based on what others have said”
“My firm is very supportive about concerns but there is the distinct feeling among myself and others that raising these at such an early stage can appear like complaining / tarnish their opinion of you.”
An additional open box question asked: “What steps, if any, could your law firm take to provide you with more support before your training contract?” The solutions broadly came down to the following categories:
- More communication and regular check-ins
- Skills training
- Trainee buddies
- Information about what to expect as a trainee solicitor
- Office visits and more social events
A selection of comments have been included below:
“Connect me with my cohort, visit the office and have a chance to speak to current trainees so that I would get a sense of what would be expected from me. Regular updates on what is going to happen in the next few months would be good as well currently I am meant to start in a few months but we have not had many updates.”
“Organise courses to prepare us for the TC, perhaps events organised by current 3rd / 4th seat trainees on what they wish they’d known when starting their TC, updates on what the firm is doing (especially internal changed you won’t find in the news), etc.”
“I specifically chose my firm for the independence they afford trainees and the maturity of candidates they hire hence I cannot complain about the lack of communication. However, it would have been nice to have at least one event organised by HR at the firm to see the office in person as all of us have interviewed during the pandemic and have not even been to the office yet. All social efforts have been made on our own initiative as future trainees.”
“More help/guidance/community building for me as an “international” (non-UK) future trainee with so many more hurdles to deal with to go work at the firm regarding visas etc”
Section 4 – The Future
The final section sought to understand the motivations of incoming trainee solicitors together with their plans for the future.
Respondents were asked what they hoped to get out of their training contract (aside from qualification). The most common factors identified included:
- Skills/learning (70%)
- Career progression (56%)
- Money (34%)
- Relationships/networking (33%)
- International opportunities (23%)
- Brand name (19%)
Note, the percentage reflects the number of people who selected their option as one of three.
Respondents were also asked how long they expected to stay at their law firms:
- 32% of respondents expected to stay at their law firm for 4-5 years
- 27% of respondents selected ‘I don’t know’,
- 17% of respondents expected to stay at their law firm for 2-3 years
- 13% of respondents expected to stay for 10+ years.
The final question asked: “Is there anything else you wish you knew before beginning your training contract?’. A selection of these responses have been included below:
“I know firms are worried about putting off future talent by being transparent about the negatives of working life. However, an event where they discuss these negatives would prepare myself and most other lawyers for the reality of working as a lawyer. The negatives are pretty similar at every big ticket firm.”
“A good understanding of likely day to day tasks, actual transparency on the hours, information about how to bill & billable hours. How to make a good impression from day 1, how to negotiate a NQ offer”
“How to manage relationships/how to make a good impression/how to be proactive and introduce ideas without fearing that you’re overstepping.”
“How work is billed; how law firms charge clients; how trainees can build their network/engage with clients; how lawyers can bring in business to their firm Practical things like that that most people aren’t aware of until they start their TC”
“What it takes to progress from level to level, transparency on the salary at each stage, precisely what the firm expects of me, and how the firm plans to invest in and secure my development.”
Learn More About Our Future Lawyers’ Survey 2022
Through our day-to-day conversations with our community of 20,000 aspiring lawyers and our 1-1 calls with future trainee solicitors, we are building a deeper picture of the challenges facing the next generation of lawyers.
If you are an organisation looking to learn more about the challenges facing future trainee solicitors or want to discuss the survey results, schedule a call with us here.