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The highs and lows of starting a training contract during a national lockdown

Having spent the last year in lockdown we’ve all experienced some change in our day to day work, but for Minster’s latest round of trainees it’s the only side to a training contract they’ve ever known. One of those trainees, Daniel Bates, shares the impact Covid-19 has had on his training so far and how he has been both challenged and supported.

I joined Minster Law in April 2020, just two weeks after the Prime Minister asked that we work from home where we could. I was very lucky that my training contract commenced as planned, without any deferral or alteration.

As a result of the pandemic, almost my entire training has been conducted remotely. I write this blog from the very same home desk where I have met, digitally, almost all of those I currently work with for the very first time. Many of my colleagues I have never met in person, including seat supervisors and even my training principle. Unorthodox, yes, but I have found a training contract conducted in this context to be completely possible.

Regular contact with attentive and approachable seat supervisors, our technical supervisor and our training principle through telephone and video calls means no question is left unanswered for long, and no vital feedback missed. While not quite the head-around-the-door level of access an office would provide, quick queries have often been addressed in 5 to 10-minute Microsoft Teams calls or regular team meetings. Everyone has made themselves available, which has been so important for effective supervision and for wellbeing.

Breadth in experience has been a matter of access. Obviously, in-person meetings, conferences, ADR sessions and trials have mostly been off-limits due to the pandemic. It is true that opportunities for court observation or advocacy have been limited too. Each of these are symptomatic of an international health crisis, though, and not necessarily remote working.

Access to all other facets of legal practice has been easy from the very first day. Outside of day-to-day drafting, interviewing and legal research I have been involved in weekly team meetings, working groups, committees, conferences, volunteer work at a vaccination centre, charity events and was even seconded part-time for 6 months to a legal trade-body. I have connected with clients, spoken at events, researched and reported on all things legal and found value, challenge and satisfaction in the tasks I have been asked to complete. I do not feel my experience has been impaired by the pandemic, and that is thanks to Minster’s seamless transition to home working and its culture of dedication and determination to make the best of every situation.

The most apparent complication presented by remote working that I have found is the reduced capacity to connect socially with colleagues, and the impact that can have on feelings of distance and isolation. I agree with many who say it is easier to maintain existing working relationships remotely than it is to establish new ones with any depth. Personally, I have found that getting involved with as many committees and working groups as possible has helped to broaden my ability to connect and get a feel for my new firm outside of my seat. Colleagues have taken the time at the beginning of calls and meetings to be personable, check on wellbeing and to learn more about new people. Digital social events have helped too. Everyone at Minster have done their utmost to be welcoming at every turn. It has been a heartening experience.

In all, my first year has been unusual but fulfilling. I learned a great deal about modern practice, as we will come to know it. Very different on the one hand, but quite familiar on the other.

Minster Law have already redefined how and where its employees will work once all restrictions are lifted, with a policy of outright agility. Work where you choose when you choose. Other firms have followed suit. Many of my colleagues have indicated that the benefits of home working often outweigh those of office working, and so they tend towards a work-from-home bias in their future working week. For this reason, it seems there will be a permanency to remote learning that is balanced alongside the freedom to be present, in person, when it is most advantageous. I am all for it.

I look forward to embracing brand new challenges in my second year.