Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Treat trainees as bad as the rest when it comes to lawyers ?

The Law Society would like lawyers to treat trainees as they feel they should be treated themselves …

Obviously this is an idea produced after many round of drinks ?

The Scotsman reports :

Do as you would be done by if you have a trainee

By Collette Paterson

HAVE you heard the one about the trainee who returned to her desk to find the contract she was working on speared by a letter opener to her chair?

Apparently there was no excuse for bad drafting, but thankfully, all of us who have heard this story know that it is but an urban legend (or was that trainee you? Answers on a postcard please).

Needless to say I used to thank my lucky stars when it was only red ink, if often a lot of red ink, on my drafts when they were returned to me.

Such stories abound for trainees, but some are probably closer to myth than others: "B's trainee gets his coffee every hour, on the hour – and forget at your peril"; or "You are so lucky to be working for C, but don't get on the wrong side of his secretary".

You might say that these are merely little nuances of office life, and the dynamics are no different to any other workplace where different personalities must co-exist.

But there is an acute imbalance of power when it comes to the trainee/trainer relationship.

We no longer live in the past, when trainees seemingly parked the partner's car, or picked up their dry cleaning.

Or do we? Many a trainee in the Noughties has enjoyed – or endured – the odd Starbucks run on a Friday with 20 orders committed to memory.

I'm fine with that, but some of you may recoil in horror at the thought. It's been an emotive issue over the years, and with more serious traineeship issues reported over the last few months, I thought I'd throw my tuppence-worth in.

I don't think it's a cop-out to say that the lines are blurred, because each trainee/trainer dynamic probably depends on the personalities involved.

Into the bargain, it is likely a trainee will move seats, and with each moonlight flit new relationships must be forged.

Leaving aside more flippant examples, I pondered the situation where a genuine traineeship difficulty arises.

These can range from a trainee citing inadequate supervision, or a trainer believing that the trainee shows no inclination to work some additional hours on the occasion that duty calls, to either side perceiving a hostile atmosphere in the office.

The Law Society deals with such cases confidentially, and this facility is available to trainees and trainers alike. But when our number is dialled it is often the product of myriad factors, not just one issue.

We can step in – with the caller's approval – and in the past, a telephone call and a friendly prod from our education and training department has had the desired effect of ironing out misunderstandings and smoothing relations.

But if there is a more serious accusation, which perhaps requires referral to the Law Society's admissions committee and could result in an organisation losing the right to provide traineeships, or a trainee losing their job, then trainees with a complaint seem to be far more reluctant to speak up.

The answer (in part), then, must be collective self-regulation within the profession – to do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

We should savour our trainees' delight at having secured a traineeship and help them to the home straight.

Of course, trainees don't know it all, but they are not signing up to become martyrs for the real estate/corporate/banking cause, however important it is to ensure they are put through their paces to emerge as qualified solicitors.

Frankly I have to wonder if the practising certificate is worth it if you don't complete your traineeship with at least one priceless anecdote to call your own (provided that the all-night corporate-deal-cum-pizza-at-midnight-search also helped with your prowess as a team member).

It's no-one's duty or right to compare traineeships, provided that learning outcomes are being met and measured, the supervision is appropriate, and provided both parties are content with the situation and working in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

But how about, in all dealings with trainees, those who are already in the profession remember how the reasonable man would act?

After all, as a profession we are terribly fond of this old chum – and I bet he's reasonable enough to let you keep your red pen.

• Collette Paterson is the new lawyers' co-ordinator for the Law Society of Scotland

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