Saturday, 25 June 2011

Growing a good trainee - pre-contract contact

I recently bumped into a Trainee in Waiting who is starting at my Firm this September. He did his LPC compulsory work experience in my dept at the beginning of the year so we kept in touch. I was surprised to find out he hadn't heard anything from the Firm despite him starting so soon. He is in a better position because of his work experience; his peers haven't had that experience. I didn't really have any contact with the Firm before I started either, so I asked around some of my fellow trainees and discovered this isn't so rare.

Now being a member of the Firm, I can see that our HR dept is very busy at this time of year with us trainees; we have just had the NQ process and we will be doing the seat swap choice next week. Plus the firms annual reviews are ongoing and there are a raft of new recruits with the new financial year. I can understand if contacting new trainees is not top priority. However, given these trainees are one of the biggest people investments the Firm will make, I don't think these priorities are quite right.

My Firm pays out over £50,000 per trainee on salary, LPC and PSC fees, not to mention the supervisory and training time plus the risk of letting unqualifieds near clients. The aim, I would suggest, is to influence the development of good potential into loyal and talented NQs. Like an investment. I don't think many financial advisers would advocate leaving an investment alone for 2 years in the hope it would still have growth potential. I would hope at the very least it would be monitored at regular intervals to ensure the potential is maintained. Now as we are talking about people, I think it unlikely trainees would lose potential, but a trainee's relationship with a firm will be key in realising that potential. If a firm started out developing a positive relationship before the trainee is at the firm they will have a head start when the training contract starts.

My Firm recruits trainees 2 years before they start. Given the statistics, Trainees in Waiting are really happy to get an offer, especially as my Firm pays LPC fees. However 2 years is a long time to wait and hear nothing. By the time I got to choosing electives on my LPC, 18 months of no contact had me feeling a little jumpy. Had I really got a training contract or had I dreamt it? I also could have used a little guidance; as it turns out, I chose electives that I thought would be helpful and weren't. I in fact wrote to the Firm to ask this very question but didn't get a response. Perhaps I would have spent my Firm's money a little better if I had a way of getting some guidance.

Many trainees I have spoken to have a similar story to me, no contact until a month before they started. Some, however, told me that they were invited to firm events; the christmas party and summer fundraiser whilst others were invited to Junior Lawyer events with the firm's trainees but paid for by the firm. All these trainees informed me they felt relaxed when they eventually started. Having met other trainees and staff members they already felt part of their firm and had made contacts they could turn to for support. They had also met each other and maintained contact leading up to their. The relatively small effort their firm had made to include them meant their transition from student to trainee went a little smoother. The lack of transition turbulence probably helped those trainees develop quicker and learn more in their first seat when compared with trainees like me.

I think the period between offer and start of a training contract is an opportunity for firms to cultivate their relationships with trainees-in-waiting. They have sifted through the multitudes of law students to find a choice few to invest in and will spend a lot of time and money on those lucky candidates. Missing the chance to ease them into their training is shortsighted. Firms shouldn't wait until their trainees are in the building to help them grow, they should be laying foundations as soon as the offer has been accepted. Investments in people don't grow themselves.

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