How competent is a trainee expected to be?
Most trainees now have previous experience of some kind these days prior to commencing their training, whether this is legal (as they have spent time working as a paralegal) or commercial (as they have made a career change) which means that they can hit the ground running when they commence their training contract.
However, Does the tick in the box relating to the requirement of previous work experience mean that expectations are higher and does it mean that the select few trainees that make it straight through from university are at a disadvantage?
I don’t know the answer. All I know is that all trainees experienced or not, due to their high level of academic qualifications and the fact they actually managed to get a TC raise the expectations of their competence. Unfortunately, a fair few trainees still present themselves to the fee earners around them as lacking common sense.
Should trainees be taught from scratch?
On a training contract, one would assume you are taught how to do things, but I can honestly say it is more about learning how things are done. Maybe it would be better for the trainee (and the firm in the long run) if trainees were taught from scratch. However, this still presents the problem regarding how much do you “dumb down” their training as with any previous experience (and on a limited level with completing the LPC) you assume basic legal knowledge, common sense and if you are lucky commercial awareness. Trainees learn on the job a great supervisor and the opportunity to get involved in a lot of work can make all the difference.
Both as a paralegal and as a solicitor/associate, I frequently helped train the trainees sitting in my department and frequently answered the questions they were too afraid to ask their supervisor. I did not take the teaching from scratch position, nor did I assume knowledge. The first thing I always asked was “how much do you know about… Xyz?” and taught them according to their answer (and the detail I taught them was dependant on ability and interest in the seat).
I suspect that they were a lot more honest with me about what they knew than they would be with their supervisor, which brings me to a further question: Are trainees simply making themselves look incompetent by not asking questions? (or not asking the right questions?)
Again, I do not have an answer – all I can say is trainees stop letting yourselves down – do not be a “less competent trainee” exceeded expectations instead.
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