Dear Amicus Agony,
I have just finished my training in a mid-sized firm and am going to be called in August. However, very unfortunately, I have not been retained. When I asked my supervising solicitor the reasons for my non-retention (so that I know how I may improve), he said that actually there was nothing wrong with my work. The firm was regrettably unable to keep me due to the current COVID-19 pandemic which has led them to trim the firm’s headcount. I am now applying to all firms (regardless of size and specialisation) indiscriminately because I am desperate. Deep down inside, I feel so lost and am wondering if practising law is even what I want to do.
Rejected Newly Qualified
Rejected Newly Qualified,
I am sorry to hear that you were not retained. However, I wish to firstly commend you on your great attitude – especially asking about how you may improve after finding out that you were not retained, and for not giving up despite this challenging time that you, many other NQs and even existing lawyers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Invest the time to make personalised applications
It sounds like you are already being proactive by applying to other law firms and once again, I would like to commend you for being able to pick yourself up and for being tenacious. I would say keep going, but perhaps it might not be the best idea to apply indiscriminately. Take some time to review what your strengths are and invest the time to make your application more personalised and tailored to each place you are applying to. It is likely that many others are applying for the same openings so you would want to make sure that you stand out as the best fit for the firm that you are applying to. After all, it is quality that matters, not quantity.
Requesting for a character reference
Since your supervising solicitor explained that they were letting you go only because of the financial circumstances of the firm, it appears that you are still on good terms with him or her. It would thus be advisable to humbly request your supervising solicitor to provide you with a character reference that you may append to your application. This may once again, set you apart from others applying for the same position.
Reach out to your network
I would also advise you to reach out to your network. Speak with your peers, seniors, career advisors and legal recruiters to assist you with proofreading your CV and LinkedIn profile, give you advice on how to prepare for interviews and how to better market yourself as the best candidate for that coveted opening. I am sure that they will be able to empathise with you and the situation that you are facing now. They may also be able to reach out to their network and share with you about more job openings.
Updating your skills
If you had picked up new skills over the circuit-breaker and work from home period (for e.g. coding, navigating legal technology etc), this would also be a good time to update your CV to include these skills. It would also show that you were taking ownership of your learning and career progression, even during these difficult times.
Lastly, as you mentioned that you are wondering if practising law is even what you want to do – I would invite you to take the time to explore alternatives, including joining the civil service, serving as in-house legal counsel, diving into legal technology and even other non-law alternatives. One way to gain better perspective is again, to reach out to your seniors or you can even drop a DM (direct message) to people currently serving these roles on LinkedIn. With your sincerity, I am sure that some of them may be willing to share about their careers and how they got to where they are.
To my newly minted fellow brother/sister of the Bar, I hope that at the end of the day, you remember that you are not alone. The legal fraternity stands united with you through this challenging period and I wish you all the best.
Dear Amicus Agony,
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to work from home which took me a very long time to get used to. However, now that I am finally getting used to working from home, it is likely that we will have to go back to the office soon, with the Team A and Team B rotation in place! I feel like the difficulty transitioning between work from home and work from office is taking away my focus on the work at hand and was wondering if you have some tips on how to cope with this new norm?
Worker from Home Office
Dear Worker from Home Office,
I hear you and trust me, I am experiencing the same difficulty toggling between working from home and working from the office! However, as you pointed out, this is our new norm and we will simply have to make the best out of it. In fact, I believe that if we embrace the new norm, we may be able to prevail from this pandemic to become more effective lawyers.
Setting a routine that works, regardless of where you are working from
My first tip for toggling between working from home and working from office would be to stick to a routine which you can replicate regardless of where you are working from. This will allow you to keep disruptions to the minimum and also inculcate a stronger sense of time management in you. This means waking up at the same time, even if there is a tendency to sleep in a little more when you are working from home. The time taken to commute to work can be designated as time for you to catch up on news and/or time to be mindful. So if you are working from home, you can also designate the same half an hour for commuting to read the newspapers, put on a podcast of your choice or even to meditate. It is also advisable to stick to the same lunch timing (regardless of where you are) so that you remain disciplined and avoid taking too long a lunch break such that you miss your bosses’ calls whilst you are cooking up a storm at home.
Over-communication is better than no communication
Next, I would advise you to continue communicating to the best of your abilities, whether or not you are in the office. In fact, over-communicate if you can. Being unable to physically meet your colleagues and to see what they are doing in real time is tough, especially when there is an impending deadline coming up. This may lead to miscommunication (for e.g. assuming that my colleague was already working on the task when he was actually on leave that day). It was then I realised the importance of communicating, which may be overlooked when we were all in the same physical space (e.g. I would have easily noticed that my colleague was not physically present in the office). A simple reply to my colleague’s e-mail (e.g. “Ok noted”) would instantly assure him/her that I was working on the task. If my teammate could only get back to me at a later time, I appreciated their e-mails informing me about the same so that I was aware and could plan my time accordingly and/or to re-allocate the work. At the end of the day, I realised that over-communication is better than no communication and this principle applies wherever you are working from.
Making use of technology
Lastly, I believe that through this work-from-home experience, most lawyers realised the importance and benefits of digitalizing our work so that we can work seamlessly regardless of our location. I learnt to place less reliance on the hard copies of documents and was pushed to really utilise the digital tools available. For example, using the OCR function (which makes volumes of documents searchable) and bookmarks (to replace our best friend, the yellow post-it notes) on my PDF documents saved me tremendous amounts of time from physically flipping through thousands of pages to find a single clause in the contract or a phrase uttered by a Judge in my bundle of authorities. Relying on soft copies will also aid your transition between working from home and from the office because now you will not have to lug volumes of confidential information to and fro from the office!
Here’s to becoming more efficient and adaptable lawyers, no matter where we are.
(Read also the May 2020 issue of the Law Gazette, which is a theme issue on Lawin the Time of COVID, and contains useful and practical articles on working from home).