A fly on the wall insight into office sharing
Updated: Feb 19, 2022
Life as a trainee isn’t just about the substantive work you do, it’s about developing your soft skills too – communication, leadership, finding your own working style and working life hacks which help make you efficient and effective. Sharing an office with a colleague is a trainee’s front-row ticket to watch and learn from a senior lawyer, especially since the offices I have sat in are predominantly two-person offices, with a junior up front and a senior lawyer at the back. Here’s the down-low of lessons learned and the realities of office- sharing throughout my time as a trainee.
#1: Getting my name on the door
The “Cleanest office of the TC” award unquestionably goes to Office #1. Character-filled yet wonderfully tidy, Office #1 was occupied by a cool-as-a-cucumber lawyer who gave out strong #goals vibes. They came from a similar background to me, invested time to support junior colleagues, never failed to wish me a “Happy Friday!” (a tradition I have since adopted toward anyone and everyone who interacts with me on a Friday), managed to juggle work with a pretty impressive fitness routine, stay surprisingly happy for someone who ate so many salads and soups, and generally took this baby lawyer under their wing. Office #1 was my debut to working life and marked the first time I got my name on the door, first Deliveroo in the office, first signing, first taxi home, first drinks after work, first awkward “I should probably have left the room rather than sit here eavesdropping on that conversation” moment… Emails were read and re-read, read again, and any silence was periodically interrupted by a robotic voice as the Office #1 occupant’s laptop read their emails aloud to them – at the time I found this deeply amusing, and mildly distracting, but it’s become a tactic I now use most days (honestly – try it!). Emotionally intelligent, a master of thinking before they spoke and stepping back before jumping into a situation, I would grow to appreciate the Office #1 occupant’s self-control, patience and communication style perhaps more when I left Office #1 than when I sat in it.
Lessons learned: Keep calm, candid and confident – back yourself, trust the process and always wear a smile.
#2: Sharing with a partner
Office #2 was big with a big name at the back desk – my principal was a senior partner who was incredible at their job, much respected in the profession and who received a consistent stream of juniors and peers alike, asking for advice or looking to chat about life with someone who was personable, dry, and incredibly excited by the work that they did. Sharing an office with a partner meant being kicked out of Office #2 for confidential conversations, and made the role of a principal quite different, since a partner is often across more matters than a more junior lawyer and spends a lot more time directly with clients, both pitching for new clients and establishing deeper relationships with existing clients, to better understand their culture, ambitions, needs and how best the firm can support them.
Lessons learned: Always make time for the little things in life and look out for your colleagues and your clients.
#3: Fuelled by caffeine
Office #3 was occupied by a lawyer who can only be described as the best kind of crazy there is – fuelled by copious amounts of caffeine, they would power through vast amounts of work, mentoring and knowhow with an approachable air which was always open to questions and an Irish charm who’s “’tanks a million” literally warmed my heart every day for the six months I sat in Office #3. A geek at heart and someone who was as much a thinker as a doer, the Office #3 occupant refused to give up their curiosity, humility and enthusiasm for their work – involving junior lawyers in all manner of work and giving buckets of time to mentor students and junior lawyers alike. Their inbox was quite frankly a piece of modern art given the pace at which emails were filed, their love of GIFs kept work jovial even amid busyness, and they never failed to make me smile – needless to say I learned lots from and laughed lots with the Office #3 occupant.
Lessons learned: Stay excited about what you do, always give back, and choose to make work fun whenever possible.
#4: The Late Late Show
Office #4 was occupied by a sharp leader who worked heroic hours for months to get huge deals across the line and, without complaint, regularly rolled up their sleeves to get work done when an extra pair of hands was needed. When evenings were spent working, the Office #4 occupant provided a seemingly endless list of top foodie recommendations for office Deliveroo orders and strived to balance workloads to allow teammates to log off at similar times. The Office #4 occupant was a committed mentor to a range of junior colleagues at various stages of their own careers, seeking to drive and encourage people to achieve their best whilst providing an open door, welcome sounding board and wealth of experience to fuel any advice they gave. Amid all of this, I can honestly say I never saw them drink a single coffee! Not all heroes wear capes… Day-to-day, a standout feature of Office #4 was that all of the Office #4 occupant’s calls were taken on loudspeaker, making for probably the best exposure I had in any of my office-sharing set ups.
Lessons learned: Confidence is invaluable and can be earned in the smallest of ways; never delegate something you (i) haven’t done yourself and (ii) wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
#5: One final office move
For the final couple of months of my TC I moved in with the occupant of Office #5. Office #5 was a bubble of sociable productivity where, for the first time, I didn’t work closely with the lawyer I shared an office with. The Office #5 occupant flitted between being on calls, delivering training, plugging their earphones in to help them concentrate and liberally re-applying their fav fragrance (I’ve made a conscious effort to keep the Office occupants gender-neutral and this is by no means a give-away – I have sat on a number of corridors where you could tell who had arrived, based on which perfume / aftershave you could smell when you arrived at your desk!). Friendly, hard-working and keen to provide exposure and explanation to more junior colleagues, the Office #5 occupant said hi to everyone and openly supported and declared their love for working with, not just more senior lawyers, but also their peers.
Lessons learned: It’s easy to admire your superiors, it’s harder to admire your peers – don’t be too proud, competitive, self-absorbed or self-deprecating to admire those at your level. Oh, and: Always. Smell. Great.