As law students, we constantly worry about our future career: whether it’s on landing an articling position, successfully completing it, or getting hired back afterwards. So how can you make the best out of your experience?
This past August, the Ontario Bar Association hosted an event on that exact question. “Excelling at articles and the law practice program: surviving and thriving through articles and the LPP” was a must-attend event for all current and future articling students. Luckily, if you did not have a chance to attend, this article will provide you with some useful and practical tips that will help you feel more confident when undertaking that next step in your law career.
Obviously the goal of excelling at articles is to prepare you to excel at being a lawyer, but also in being in the business of law. Yes, you read that right. First off, you should ask yourself the following question: where will my work come from now, in one year, and in 10 years? Learning the “culture of the firm,” the attitudes to exhibit, and perceptions to avoid should be on your agenda right from the beginning of your articles.
Initially, your workload will depend on the lawyers you will be working with, but as time goes by, it will depend on the relationships you’ve established and your reputation.
In respect to that last point, the people in your office might just be the answer! Aside from the partners, the associates, paralegals, and other students, the receptionist and even the external support staff such as the concierge should definitely become a part of your circle.
The receptionist answers potential clients’ calls and decides to whom the call should be transferred to. And don’t underestimate the support staff. They know a lot of people and the best way a business is promoted is from mouth to ear.
Moral of the story? The world is small — be respectful to everyone and treat everyone equally; it will serve you in the future.
“Not everyone needs a lawyer — and not everyone who needs a lawyer, needs you.” This quote is very representative of real life.
In order to serve your clients to the best of your abilities, and to ultimately gain their loyalty and trust, there are a few things you can do to enhance your efficiency. One is to write down everything clients tell you — absolutely everything. Make sure to repeat their words to them to confirm the instructions given to you and the exactitude of what was said. Advise them to correct you if necessary.
The importance of written-down instructions is essential especially if they are unusual or contrary to your recommendations. Furthermore, you should note everything you told the clients to protect yourself from any misunderstandings that could arise throughout the retainer.
Finally, be upfront about the risks, costs, and timing concerning their case right from the start. By following these steps, you could prevent any mishaps in the exchange of the communication and have a better idea on the possibility of options suitable to their situation.
Writing your assignments
If you haven’t been paying attention — now is the time!
Well-written assignments will have an immense impact on your credibility. Providing a correct and to-the-point paper will make you more persuasive in what you are looking to convey.
First and foremost, set objectives for your assignment by asking yourself the following questions: why does the lawyer need this information? What is requested: a memo, a factum, or maybe a presentation? Who is the concerning audience: will the fruits of your research be shared with legal professionals, such as a judge, or non-legal persons, such as an organization looking for information in a certain area of law? How much time is reasonably necessary for its completion?
If the lawyer’s instructions are not clear enough, don’t be afraid to ask for more details or clarification. Remember: you do not want to hand in the wrong information and risk having your credibility questioned. Lawyers are busy and they might assume that you know what their request is all about, but they are aware that you are still a student and need guidance.
So ask questions when you feel unsure.
Also, try to look for examples of work done by other lawyers and tailor yours accordingly.
Here are two critical requirements when writing your assignment: brevity (less is more) and get to the point (stick to what you were asked).
Generally, you should give a brief explanation of the facts, what is the issue at hand, and your answer. A short background surrounding the context of the research can be insightful. Once you’re half done, check in with the lawyer to confirm you are on the right track. Lastly, double-check your research and be confident in your answer!
Networking: get comfortable with the uncomfortable
One thing many panellists were insisting on, and I strongly recommend, is to network and create a circle of connections. Not only will you gain more confidence, but you will get your name known.
As a future lawyer, you will need to work with a variety of legal professionals and you may need their expertise in an area of law you are not familiar with. Furthermore, networking offers great exposure of your services and referrals are very common between different types of professionals.
Don’t limit yourself: your potential clients are generally non-lawyers, so attend diversified events where you could create work relationships.
Hopefully these tips have provided you with tools you need to succeed and excel during your articles. You have made it through law school, so don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back and take time to do things you love. You are almost there!
Ines Gavran is a student and the co-president of Criminal Law Students Association at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law