A lookup field in a custom object needs to be updated after the record is submitted for approval and locked.
Is the trigger able to achieve this, even if the record is locked?
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The answer is, it depends.
If you have your code written directly in the trigger or in a class designated
without sharing, then the apex code can update records that are locked, regardless of the user who caused the trigger to fire. I tested by creating a trigger on Contact that updates a field on the Contact's Account. When the Account is locked, I can edit the contact record with a non admin user and the field on the Account gets updated.
If you use code in a class marked
with sharing that is called by the trigger, then you will get an exception. If the trigger was executed by an Administrator, then the code will always run.