The No. 1 piece of advice is to rest up because articling is no cakewalk.
“It’s going to be a challenging year just because it’s the first time [students have] actually been in practice for an extended period. Some may have summered but this is a longer period where the light is further away at the end of the tunnel,” says Kari Abrams, director of student programs and junior associates at Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP.
More importantly, “you want to make sure that you’ve come well-rested so that you’re alert, and you’re engaged, and you’re ready to participate,” she says.
Recruiters say there’s not much actual work you can do ahead of articling, but it can help to get yourself in the right headspace.
Students “need to prepare mentally for the transition from law school to a professional environment,” says Halla Elias, director of professional recruitment at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. “Be prepared to observe thoughtfully, listen carefully, and adapt quickly.”
She suggests students review the firm’s web site and go over any policies outlined in their offer letter.
It’s also a good idea to start reading the newspaper if you don’t already, says Abrams, because being up to date on current events helps in all aspects of your job.
Of course, what to wear on your first day is possibly the most anxiety-inducing aspect of Day 1.
Susan Pak, acting director of student programs at Stikeman Elliott LLP, says to dress the same as you did as a summer student and observe what other lawyers are wearing.
“Take your cue from there, don’t experiment fashion-wise in the first week,” she says.
Before arriving at the firm, you should also consider what goals you want to achieve during articling and how you intend to reach them, says Elias.
Along with orientation and training in the first couple of weeks, most firms have a formal mentorship program that pairs students up with a lawyer.
Mentors “are a good support system for how to navigate the system and meet more people, because I think one of the most nerve-racking things is being able to meet more lawyers and get work from them,” says Pak.
To make the transition easier, she suggests reconnecting with lawyers you have already built relationships with to let them know you’re coming back to the firm. You can also lean on your fellow articling students for support, so make sure you get to know them well, she says.
“Be aware of what support is in place for whatever firm that you’re at and make use of those support systems,” says Elias.
All firms offer continuing legal education courses — take advantage of them! There will be mandatory courses during orientation, but there’s much to gain from going to some of the firm-wide seminars during your articling term, she says.
It’s also essential to come into the firm with an open mind, says Pak.
“Don’t narrow your focus too quickly,” she says. “Take this opportunity to do as much work with as many different lawyers as you can so you can really figure out by the end of articling what you can see yourself doing for your next X number of years as a lawyer.”
If your experiences make you change your mind about where you want to go or what you want to practise, make sure you keep the student director abreast of it, says Abrams.
“If interests change, make sure that you keep communicating that to the director of the student program so that we can work with you to give you the best articling experience possible,” she says.
Most of all, keep your chin up.
“Realize that it is going to be some long hours and it is going to be some challenging work, but it’s all going to be worth it at the end of the day because you’re going to get excellent legal training and you’ll be well on your way to start your legal career,” says Abrams.
So for now, relax over the long weekend because soon enough it’ll be time to roll up your sleeves and get to work!