Self-promotion. Is this a useful tool or a fatal temptation for trainees? – Elizabeth Cruikshank and Penny Cooper


Such a question deserves the traditional lawyer’s answer – it all depends.

“Self-promotion” simply means putting yourself forward, and there is a fine line to be drawn between making sure that you are noticed positively and being regarded negatively. On the one hand you want to promote your own “brand” and to be seen as more effective than the other trainees in your firm or chambers. On the other hand you do not want to appear pushy or smug; ‘know it alls’ are avoided by partners as well as by their fellow trainees.

The key to positive recognition, as with so many things in life, is moderation. It’s not necessary to wear a T-shirt advertising your outstanding successes; there are much more subtle ways to let others know about your achievements. Don’t feel that only momentous achievements will impress; an accumulation of little things can get you a reputation for consistency, reliability and sound thinking.

There are two groups of people that you should want to impress — your colleagues and your clients. With both, subtlety rather than boastfulness will win the day.
With colleagues

Not all your colleagues will be responsible for making the decision on whether or not to take you on at the end of your training, but any one of them, even a fellow trainee, might be informally consulted by the person with the power. So, keep a few tactical rules in mind….

Rule number 1

Blowing your own trumpet? Thanks to SteveB! for image CC licence on flickr.com

Be there. Make sure that you put in enough ‘face-time’. Let us suppose that you have been sent to Covent Garden to get a document signed by a client. By the time you leave the client’s offices it is 6 pm. Should you:

(a) Go straight to the train station less than a mile away and go home? Or
(b) Go back to your firm’s offices which are half a mile in the other direction?

If you really want to make the right impression, your answer should be (b). If you don’t return, even if just for a brief ten minutes, your colleagues might think that after your meeting finished you simply sloped off home as early as 5 pm – that’s practically a ‘half day’ in a City firm. Your colleagues will not know the ins and outs of what you do, but they will have a perception of how hard you work and how committed you are. It is not enough to work hard as a trainee – you also need to be seen to work hard.

As a trainee you need to be seen as much as possible. This may often mean working longer than you are contractually obliged, accepting every work-related out of hours invitation that comes your way and sometimes even taking less than your full holiday allowance. This is a fact of life for anyone building a career. Later, when you have achieved success and earned the respect of your colleagues at work, “face-time” will not be so necessary because your colleagues will have the belief that you are working hard even when they can’t see you.

Rule number 2

Get your name on it. Make sure that your name appears wherever it is appropriate. The emphasis is on “appropriate”. Don’t put your name on every piece of paper that moves or blitz people with unwelcome emails, but do remember to put your name on work that you can honestly claim some credit for. If you make a substantial contribution to drafting the papers for a lunch-time seminar, could you put your name on them as a co-author? Could you organise this year’s team for the charity bike ride/ client golf tournament? Without being pushy there must be other similar things that you could do to make your name more ‘visible’ in the office.

Rule number 3

Keep a record of what you have done. Always keep a running record of the file notes, the briefings, the charity bike ride, the seminars attended or anything else even tangentially associated with your firm so that at your appraisal you can list them for your supervisor. You’ll probably find that busy people will have surprisingly short memories for what you have achieved. Remind them.

With clients

You may feel that you have only limited opportunities for self-promotion with the firm’s clients. This is not strictly speaking true, but it does require even more care, thought and sensitivity. Don’t rush forward; wait for suitable introductions by your supervisor or colleagues if you can. You could put your colleagues’ noses out of joint by pushing yourself to the fore with clients and you will certainly offend them if they think that you are trying too hard to ingratiate yourself with ‘their’ clients.

But you will impress clients if you always deliver what you promised in good time. Remember to keep your colleagues informed on how your relationships with their clients client is progressing, as this should allay any fears that you are trying to ‘muscle in’. If a client invites you to an event or asks for your help, this is a vote of confidence in your competence and personability. You should go to the event or help with the query, but you should also check that the supervising partner is happy about this. If you personally can’t help find someone who can and check that the client actually gets the help that you arranged. But again, make sure that your supervising partner knows about it, for after all he is the one who will be answerable to the client if you make a fool of yourself or give the wrong advice.

With everyone…

Be there and be seen. Be noticed, but remember one big muddy spectacle can completely obliterate all the carefully nurtured impressions of maturity and competence that you have given up to now.

Professor Penny Cooper of The City Law School and Elizabeth Cruickshank are the authors of ‘All you need to know about being a Trainee Solicitor’ (Longtail, 2008) which is currently about to be published in 2010 editions in China and Nigeria.

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