Aug 21, 2023

Written By Womble Bond Dickinson

The O Shaped Lawyer: The Trainee's Perspective

Aug 21, 2023

Written By Womble Bond Dickinson

Womble Bond Dickinson is committed to training and developing its solicitors in a way that prepares them for the future of the legal profession. This approach is underpinned by the O shaped lawyer framework and aims to provide the firm with a team of solicitors who are not only fluent in the law, but also the commercial and customer-centric demands of the profession. We caught up with Supuni Perera, a trainee solicitor in Womble Bond Dickinson’s Southampton office, to find out more about her experience on her training contract so far and how the firm’s approach to training and development will benefit her career development moving forward.

From your perspective, why is the idea of the O-shaped lawyer important for your future career?

When I began my journey to become a solicitor, I felt that the profession required me to emulate certain stereotypical images I had nurtured in my mind through time to be the ideal lawyer. Having entered the field, firstly as a paralegal, then as a trainee, and being made the leader of the firm's BAME Network, WBD Reach, I soon realised that the legal profession has changed a lot, and normalised the importance of being ourselves, and therefore bring to work not only our legal knowledge, professionalism, but our empathy and emotional intelligence. The O-shaped lawyer movement's aim to bring change in the way lawyers are trained and developed that goes beyond the technical knowledge is a positive message, that is inspirational especially to junior lawyers while we navigate the legal sphere, understanding how to best learn, develop, and progress in our careers.

It emphasises that we live in a legal reality that is different, with clients having many options to choose from, whether law firms, or alternative legal service providers, and are seeking excellent business advice, and no longer just the legal analysis. Therefore, as tomorrow's lawyers, we need to be geared up for that.

What development courses have you taken so far and what have you learned? What tools has the firm given you to use in your day-to-day work, and how do you think they will help in the future?

I have attended courses on resilience and building your personal brand, which have been greatly insightful in order to understand the suite of skills needed to thrive in the legal profession. It is a given that working in law comes with great responsibilities. In order to ensure that these responsibilities are delivered, these require courage, resilience, and continuous learning while also making a conscious decision to shape my personal branding, i.e. how I am being perceived by others.

These courses have helped me understand the importance of having a positive outlook towards the everyday job, and understanding that it is okay that every single day is not a smooth drive, and hiccups are part of the journey. The courses have taught me that it is important to use setbacks, mistakes to develop skills like resilience, which allow you to quickly recover from disappointment and learn from the experience and move forward.

Equally, simply doing the day-to-day job is no longer enough, as creating relationships, and nurturing those with empathy, influence, collaboration, is what assists the strengthening of your personal brand, which is needed to build your identity and long-term connections with a wide range of people.

Are you involved in any committees or groups? What has this brought to your experience at Womble Bond Dickinson, and why do you think initiatives like this are important at a law firm?

I lead the firm's BAME Network, WBD Reach, which has been a great role to be trusted with, which allowed me to quickly develop the skills that commonly sit under the O-shaped lawyer movement. The role offered various opportunities, such as directly reporting to the firm's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (EDI) board sponsor, and leading the initiatives within the firm that celebrate and raise awareness on Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (which is what Reach stands for).

The role has enabled me to be adaptable as it requires a great effort on top of the daily job to ensure the Network's aims and objectives are pursued and delivered; the role also allowed me to build wider relationships within and outside of the firm – I was able to contribute to bridging the gap between the legal profession and legal academia thanks to my PhD and the connections I have made throughout that parallel academic journey and legal practising job.  We held events where scholars are invited to attend and contribute to panel discussions on EDI at our office in London.

Events and initiatives like these are key for progressive and innovative law firms that make and take opportunities while looking outside of the traditional settings, and disrupting the "normal" way of conducting business. Adventuring into new waters allows us to be open to new ideas, original and innovative ways of networking that are more diverse and inclusive.

How does it feel to be a trainee at a firm that seems to go the extra mile when it comes to career development? Is this something you see across the industry or is it quite unique to Womble Bond Dickinson?

I am extremely grateful for my colleagues that have supported me from the moment I have arrived at the firm to pursue my dream to secure a training contract, and I am now ready to qualify early using my paralegal experience as "time to count".

I have been trusted with great responsibilities despite my junior position, which allowed me to grow in confidence, while being myself, and appreciating what I was bringing into the firm, as I had a different pathway to the professional field than most other trainees. For the longest time, I was challenged when I was knocking on firms' doors to gain practical experience as I was coming from academia, and WBD appreciated the extra expertise and experience I had collated in the academic sphere, from teaching undergraduates to contributing to a book with authors like Baroness Hale. This enabled me to transfer those skills to my practical job.

I increasingly see the legal field placing more importance into career development, and investing into support needed for juniors to ensure we are better positioned to carry out our jobs not only technically. But I can definitely see the firm's efforts in advancing an O-Shaped profession, overall.



O Shaped Lawyer