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Interview with Victoria Cannon - the evolution of 'junior lawyers'



The JLD speaks to Victoria Cannon about her experience as a junior lawyer, the change in culture for paralegals, trainees and NQs, and what firms could do better.


  1. How would you summarise your experience of being a junior lawyer?


I was a junior lawyer at 34, having had a previous career with HMRC and studying part time to gain legal qualifications. I always felt a little older as a junior lawyer and therefore did not engage with junior lawyers or events as I probably should have. When I trained, the culture was a lot different than it is now and not for the better. I dare not leave the office before my principal, which meant that sometimes, I would leave after 8pm. There was an unwritten rule that you should complete all tasks in one day, which often meant working well into the early hours. This was an accepted culture. 

I did not feel that I could challenge my principal and I felt so grateful for having the opportunity that I did not exercise my thoughts, just knuckled down until I qualified. Post-qualification, I stayed with the firm where I trained but I could not escape my trainee role, so I left taking on a full caseload in a high street practice, without any help in a family context. 3 years later, I set up my own business. 


I probably did not take enough time to appreciate my role as a junior lawyer, I was too eager to advance, probably due to being an older lawyer. There were disadvantages in the 2000s for junior lawyers.  Expectations were high in terms of work, and as a trainee I felt very low in the pecking order, lower than support staff. However, it certainly changed the way that I thought about developing junior lawyers in the future, ensuring that they are valued, included and exposed to all levels of work.

 

2. If you had been leading your department at the time of being a junior lawyer, what changes would you have made to your training or day-to-day role?

 

I would have included the junior lawyers in all levels of work, not just routine low value work. I would insist that junior lawyers are introduced early to cost considerations, targets and business development. This will prepare them for the future, as they grow into their career paths and learn the needs of the team. Being aware of illness or stress and doing something about it and encouraging good mental health.


3. What do you think the main priorities of junior lawyers are now? (i.e. hybrid working, pay, training, succession etc).

Hybrid working, so they can avoid the commute and recharge during the week. To feel they are trusted to get the job done, so they have the freedom to conduct the role as they wish (providing they work within agreed parameters). To ensure they are involved in case decisions, so that they have involvement in strategy discussions. To earn a decent wage and have insight into their future role and the expectations upon them.     

  

4. What are the main traits that firms continue to practice, that may persuade junior lawyers to look elsewhere?

 

Rigid working patterns. Not valuing their contributions or rewarding them with recognition and remuneration. Lack of clear progression paths. A lack of involvement in the team’s future plans, with no ownership/recognition of their contribution. 

 

5. What incentives are firms offering that appear to be working with retaining junior talent?

 

Good training to include involvement with Business Development. Satisfactory pay. Hybrid working patterns. Trust and involvement with team strategy. Clear progressions paths.

 

6. Do you think there is anything that firms aren’t offering currently, that could improve the culture for junior lawyers?

A support network from more senior lawyers - perhaps a counselling or support service from more experienced lawyers, where a junior lawyer could access potentially anonymous guidance.

 

7. Is there anything that you learnt or reflected upon after your time as a junior lawyer, that you wish you’d been aware of earlier in your career?

 

You should be able to say no, or 'this is a little too much' and 'can you give me a reasonable timeframe' - without thinking that this will adversely affect your career. 

8. Do you have a particularly proud moment or success from your time as a trainee/NQ?

 

Qualifying at age 37!

9. Was there a ‘bad day’ or experience in your career that you continue to remember from being a trainee/NQ?

 

Numerous as a trainee.  My 'place' improved and I was more accepted as a NQ. Being sent to Court with numerous boxes and told I can sit with Counsel to hear a case.  My principal then turning up after I had carted the boxes there to say they will now take over.  Therefore, I was just a carthorse.


I saw 5 - 8 new clients in a day and was expected to set them up with client care letters by the next days to be checked. This happened regularly and I completed the tasks each time with 7am to 8pm days in the office.

My files being kicked on the floor by secretaries when they passed. This changed when I qualified.

Sat at the end of the room by an open door, continually cold but never complaining and working with several chest infections and illnesses throughout this time.



Victoria is a Partner and Head of Family Law at Hugh James. To contact her, please email family@hughjames.com.

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