Anisa Khan looks at how to conduct yourself professionally both inside and outside of work in the second of her trainee perspective articles. Anisa is a trainee in the private client team at TSP, working with Fiona Ashworth.
If your Training Contract Interview is the first time you are stepping foot into a law firm, you may find yourself scouring the pages of ‘wiki how’ for the latest on how to be professional in the workplace. Whilst the results will include reams of information on the benefits of well-polished shoes and smelling fresh in the morning, it might not be all that realistic.
Whilst a well-fitting suit and shoes so polished that you can see your face in them will no doubt impress entering a room, what happens next is all too important. Professionalism should be found in the quiet moments within meetings and in how we deal with queries that we quite frankly do not know the answer to. It is found in the way we speak and interact with colleagues and others inside and outside of work too.
From the outset, you may be questioning the outside of work element of this, but as a Solicitor there is a requirement to hold yourself to a certain ethical standard outside of work too. Imagine this, you’re on your way to work and you feel a spark of road rage at the driver in front of you, who has just cut you off, you swear at them and get a bit hostile, they don’t know who you are so that’s fine… right?
Wrong. Now Picture walking into your first appointment of the day and shock, horror, it’s the other driver. They now no longer have any faith in your service, you may apologise, but think of the sheer embarrassment and try explaining this loss of work to your supervisor too.
You may be thinking to yourself, that this scenario is a bit of a stretch. This may be the case, however, the Solicitors Regulation Authority does require us to uphold their Principles, namely, Principles 2 (‘To act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the Solicitors’ profession and legal services provided by authorised persons’) and Principle 5 (‘To act with integrity’) which are regularly applied by the tribunal to misconduct outside of the workplace specifically. Solicitors have been struck off for misusing a disabled badge for parking, skipping out on train fare and even getting too drunk and singing lewd and inappropriate songs to colleagues at Christmas Parties. Imagine putting in years of hard work to qualify to have it taken away for something so avoidable.
Not only this, when you are applying to become a Solicitor, there is a screening process that takes place and you must meet the SRA’s character and suitability criteria. This covers the expected such as behavior which has a bearing on your integrity and independence, criminal conduct, education assessment offences, regulatory and disciplinary findings and health conditions, but there is also a further financial check, this covers bankruptcy, insolvency and County Court Judgements. This means that poor money management in your personal life can have a direct effect on your aspirations to become a Solicitor or even a Chartered Legal Executive. Non-payment of bills or falling behind on credit card payments which seem completely unrelated are very much related to you and your future, so be careful! If you’re sharing bills with anyone, ensure their names are on the bills as well as your own so you aren’t responsible for the whole debt if they move out or don’t pay their share. There are always options with this and court action to be taken, but be wary as this also may affect your admission if it remains unpaid.
In summary, In light of the SRA Requirements making time to work on ourselves and our personal lives, financially and ethically alongside any further study we may be doing, is a wholly beneficial and integral supplement to life as a trainee and even as a qualified solicitor, so that we may ensure continual compliance with the same. I would say that there are a lot of external factors that can affect how you are perceived as a professional, which can sometimes be out of your control or seem unfair, but the way we deal with these things and problem solve is what defines us, not only to our colleagues but to ourselves also.