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Passing Probation – 6 Steps to Success in Your New Legal Role

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’ve managed to succeed in doing two things:

The first, is finally getting that legal role you’ve worked long and hard to land, for which you owe yourself a massive pat on the back and a huge congratulations once again.

Now that your foot is firmly through the door and you’ve been introduced to your colleagues and starting to get on with the job at hand, this next 3-6 months (or perhaps longer) is crucial to ensure you breeze by the next milestone in your career – passing your probation.

Probationary Period: A Definition

According to the CIPD, a probationary period is the time where your employer will be assessing your suitability for the role and general capabilities identified at the interview stage.

As a general rule in the UK legal sector, probationary periods last anywhere between three and six months, depending on the level of the role – and is also a period where you too are assessing your own suitability and ‘fit’ as a new employee.

I’m sure at this early stage in your new role, a thousand and one things must be running through your head at this thought, such as your hitting your objectives, impressing your manager and peers, and generally meeting their expectations – and it’s probably taken up quite a bit of headspace already. The truth is that a lot of these worries can be quelled by taking a few simple steps to ensure you’re on the right trajectory to become a bonafide part of the furniture.

The first thing to say is that you’ve already got this far by making a killer first impression – talking about your skillset and suitability for the role throughout the interview process. However, this next crucial stage is about demonstrating that suitability.

And, whilst the first few months in a new role can often be somewhat of a rollercoaster as you settle into your new team, the environment, and the workload, our top 6 tips below should help to ensure you tick all the boxes as you head towards that all-important probation meeting in a few months’ time.

1. Don’t forget the basics

Dress code, punctuality and the right attitude are all non-negotiables if you’re serious about standing out to your manager and colleagues. Make sure your appearance is neat and professional and in line with the firm’s dress code policy. You should also be mindful of avoid unnecessary absences, if at all possible, as well as frequent tardiness. Getting to work and meetings prepared and on time is important at all stages in your career, never more so than in these first impactful first few months.  Basic as they may seem, having these things covered can do a lot to calm the nerves and help you settle in well in those first few weeks.

2. Consider the ‘double-A criteria’

I’m sure one of the first things that spring to mind when thinking about your probation is how you’ll fare compared to expectations regarding your ability and competence when doing your job – after all, that is the crux of what you’ll be assessed on during your end of probation review. However (believe it or not) your competence in your role is less likely to be the reason you’d fail your probation.

During your hiring process, your legal recruiter as well as those hiring at your law firm, will have assessed your CV, qualifications, experience, and skills aligned to the job role – and this first few months are now how you demonstrate what we call the ‘double-A criteria’

  • Attitude and
  • Aptitude

HRmagazine in the UK and LeadershipIQ in the US shared extensive data that confirms that attitudes drive over 89% of hiring failures, while a lack of technical ability came in at only 11%. Career Builder shared similar alarming research that 30% of managers had sacked staff for poor timekeeping.

Therefore in summary, it will be your mindset, your can-do attitude, and your positivity that will hugely impact your success over this critical period.

Plus, if there are things you are perhaps struggling with technically, it is highly likely your new firm will offer training and support to upskill. A positive attitude and will to succeed however can’t be taught – so you need to ensure you bring this to the table yourself.

3. Be obsessive about organisation

Staying on top of your work is paramount in any context and your first week or two in your new role is no different. As you’re gradually eased into the job and given more responsibility, staying organised will give you the opportunity to not only show your boss you’re productive but also that you’re capable of handling the workload and are completely on top of things.

There are many productivity and ‘work management’ tools out there that can help massively with this, too, such as, Asana or Trello  – many of which offer free access (for the basic product) or at least a free trial period.

These powerful 3rd party tools are great for cross-team collaboration, reporting and project management, yet it’s also worth saying that even an Excel spreadsheet or a notebook that helps you keep track of tasks and to-do lists are a great starting point.

4. Don’t be afraid to speak up

Particularly if you aren’t sure how to do something, have questions, or generally need help. I’m sure you’ve heard this one over and over and undoubtedly it can be easier said than done when all you’ve got on your mind is how to impress your manager and peers.

The reluctance to ask questions often stems from new recruits not wanting to come across as incompetent or being unable to use their own initiative, however being inquisitive is a truly positive trait that can have the opposite effect. In your first few weeks for example, you’re going to have a lot of information thrown at you and unless you’ve got an unusually great memory, you’re simply not going to be able to remember every single thing you’re told (even if you’re able to get most of them down on paper). Asking questions or simply saying ‘I don’t understand’ can and will show your colleagues and employers that you’re invested in learning more about your role and giving yourself the best chance of succeeding in it.

Plus, according to a recent article in Forbes, there may actually be a ‘risk’ in assuming you do know – so always raise your hand, put your head above the parapet, and be vocal to get clarification (and demonstrate your enthusiasm and willingness to learn).

5. Be proactive

The first few months of your probation present an excellent opportunity to raise your professional profile via networking, whether it be with colleagues at the workplace or with other legal professionals at external events.

Depending on the size of your firm, there may also be internal committees, programmes or steering groups to get involved in such as those focused on Corporate Social Responsibility, business improvements or pro bono projects in the community. Getting involved in things like these early on will undoubtedly help to solidify relationships with others in the business – and more than likely, other individuals outside of your direct team or department. As well as demonstrating that you are passionate about the business, it also, by proxy, raises your profile throughout the firm as someone who (already) has a vested interest in its future.

6. Leave time to prepare for your review

With all of the above to consider, as well as the job and workload itself, those first few weeks and months will undoubtedly fly by – yet it’s so important not to leave any preparation for your official ‘probation review’ until the very last minute.

Hopefully your manager engages regularly (either informally or through more formal 121s perhaps) on your progress and how you’re settling in, but either way, this final meeting is usually the chance where the ‘pass’ decision comes to a head.

There are various steps you can take to ensure you feel fully prepared:

1. Re-read the job description:

It will help remind you of the tasks and responsibilities of your role and you can use it to gauge whether you’re meeting expectations or are falling short. You can also use it to see whether there are big discrepancies between what the job description says and what your experience has been. It can help you to know ahead of time what you’ll be assessed on in the meeting.

2. Review your work so far:

Focus on three key questions that are almost guaranteed to come up in the meeting:

  • what have you enjoyed working on?
  • Is there anything that you haven’t enjoyed working on?
  • What have you learned so far?

3. Speak to your co-workers:

Be aware that you’ll receive critical advice aimed at helping you improve. Use it as an opportunity to make improvements where you need to (and try not to take it personally).

And finally,

A probation period is often quite daunting as you do your best to settle into a new firm, engage in new professional relationships, and work hard to build on that great first impression your employer had of you back at the start of the process.

However, it’s also a great time for you personally to reflect on what you have learned so far at this juncture, how much you have already added value to your new employer, and how far you have come since that first day walking into the office (or logging on to the IT system).

Passing your probation is the final milestone that will see you become an official member of the team and for that reason should be treated as a crucial step in your career advancement – yet with a few simple steps and preparation, should be one you pass with flying colours.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

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Posted By

Joel Okoye

Digital Marketing Apprentice