Qualifying in lockdown

Katie O'Kelly, Associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, family and children team.
Katie O’Kelly
3 min Read

This time two years ago it would have been difficult to predict the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic was about to have on us, both personally and professionally. I have spoken to a number of peers who have qualified since the first national lockdown in March 2020 and it seems that qualifying during this extraordinary time has brought with it some unique challenges.

In at the deep end but feeling supported

I was once told that transitioning from a trainee to an associate can feel as though you are voluntarily diving into the deep end, albeit with the close support of your colleagues (or to continue with the analogy, armbands and a life ring). I can now say, however, that undergoing that transition during a national lockdown made it feel as though the armbands were punctured and the life ring was just out of reach. Thankfully, I qualified into a very supportive team and never felt beyond my depth; I regularly went through my matter list with my supervisors and I was never made to feel as though I was interrupting something more important. I can only imagine, however, how it may have felt for those less fortunate.

A number of my peers believe that working from home for the past two years has had an impact on their career development. This is because they have not been exposed to the things they would have been exposed to had they been in the office; they have not been in earshot of ad hoc discussions about legal concepts, procedures and strategies and there has been no opportunity for them to bump into colleagues from other departments and expand their internal network.

The art of networking, so I am told, comes with practice – the more events you attend, the more your network grows and, as a result, the more you enjoy subsequent events. However, all networking events, both internally and externally, came to a swift halt in March 2020. Notwithstanding the virtual networking events that I have ‘attended’, the opportunity to expand my professional network has been limited by the global pandemic and is something that appears to also be weighing on the minds of other more junior lawyers.

Learning to work independently

Establishing myself as a reliable and valuable member of a team whilst working remotely is not a challenge I had foreseen facing as a newly qualified solicitor. I did not do the final seat of my training contract in the department I was qualifying into and the team had changed somewhat. I was therefore joining a team with little knowledge of my work ethic, style, or ability. I was not physically visible to those delegating work and the onus therefore fell on me to ensure that everyone was aware that I was keen to assist and had the capacity to do so.

It has not, however, all been negative. Working from home has meant that we have had to be less reliant on others and this, in turn, has brought about an opportunity for significant self-development. Interrupting a colleague on Teams to ask a question feels more intrusive than turning your head to the person on the next-door desk. As a consequence, I have found myself using other available resources before asking for guidance and have seen a marked growth in my independence and confidence.

Hybrid working – a lifestyle change for the better

Before March 2020 there was very little opportunity for me to work from home and I enjoyed the clear line between work and home. Over the past two years this line, for many of us, has become increasingly blurred. Despite the challenges, however, there are a number of benefits to working from home, such as recouping three hours per day from not having to commute. At Russell-Cooke we have had an agile working policy in place since October 2021 enabling most employees to work from home two days per week. It seems that many companies are now looking to offer a similar hybrid arrangement and I can certainly see this being an effective long term solution.

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