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Small but effective lessons from a summer work term

Working at a law firm over the summer was a great experience, but it also carried many challenges. In reflecting on my time at the firm, there are three important takeaways that I would like to share as they can no doubt be applied to law school.

  1. Time management

    This is a skill that most students believe they have acquired and know they can improve, but it is never really put to the test. At one point in my life, I was attending school full time and working full time so I believed I had a pretty good handle on managing my time. I was incorrect.

    It was not until I had nine assignments in front of me that my ability to organize my time was tested. As the tasks were being assigned, I started to adjust my usual time management habits. In the past, I would complete the tasks in the order of assignment; however, with the varying deadlines and varying complexities of work involved, this did not suffice. I began to evaluate each assignment based on whether I knew how to complete it (id I know where to start? Was the research easy to locate?), how long I estimated it would take (a realistic estimate) and when it was due. In breaking down each assignment as it came to me, I then had a grasp on what was involved should the lawyer come asking for an update. It also made the list seem far less overwhelming and eliminated any surprises. Instead of seeing an impossible list of work, I had my workweek planned.

  2. Important conversations

    Working in a law firm was a new experience for me and, especially at the start, I was lost. Remember, lawyers recognize that you’re new so use this to your advantage. Ask questions — a lot of them. It is easy to think that lawyers are too busy to give their time to the students when in fact it is quite the opposite. Lawyers are happy to discuss the issues and like to know that you are heading in the right direction. After all, your efforts are helping them with their work and their clients and, simply, they are asking the questions because they don’t know the answers. Often, when I was stumped on a task, I found a quick, two-minute-long conversation with the lawyer to be the most efficient way to move forward and get to the answer. Furthermore, talking through the issues aloud can sometimes help clarify any confusion.

  3. Read it over once, twice, three times

This third lesson seems too obvious, but it is crucial! If you know your work habits (and, likely, by the time you hit law school, you have an idea) you know that certain times of day may not be conducive for you to produce your best work. Do not submit anything you have not had the chance to read over at least once. I found that when I had managed my time effectively, I always planned some time to review anything the morning it was due. With fresh eyes on the screen, I could pick up small typos and unclear sentences. If there is time, try to read your work again once it has been printed. The smallest errors can go unnoticed on the screen, but on paper they are easy to spot. Even if you have answered the most intricate of legal questions, there is nothing more unprofessional or distracting than a memo with typos.

My summer at the law firm flew by. It was interesting, fun and eye-opening. I dabbled in areas of the law that I did not know existed. More importantly, I picked up new skills — and improved on skills that I thought I had mastered. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but in recognizing my weaknesses and working to improve, I found myself becoming more and more efficient daily. I look forward to putting these improvements to work during the school year and again during articles.