I went to law school at the University of Ottawa and was delighted to call Ottawa home, but I chose to return to Nova Scotia, where I grew up, to begin my legal career. My scenic ferry ride to work every morning confirms my decision.
My firm, BOYNECLARKE LLP, is located in Dartmouth, N.S., and provides clerks with at least eight different rotations in a 12-month span. So even though I have a few months under my belt, I am still very much in the early stages.
Stay calm and carry on
Articling is a unique experience. It is rare to know what will come my way each day and as clichéd as it might sound, having a positive mindset in the midst of the unknown has proven to be a valuable asset.
Remaining calm when a lawyer is asking me to do something I have never done before (and sometimes never heard of) is key to avoiding becoming overwhelmed. I try to restate to the lawyer what is being asked of me to ensure I have understood the directions and prevent future confusion. While receiving instructions, I often write them down quickly by hand, which, at times, results in varying degrees of legibility. By typing out the instructions as soon as I get back to my desk, I am able to avoid a situation later on where I can’t remember what the lawyer asked and I can’t read my writing.
I’ve also learned not to be afraid to ask questions. I’m fortunate to work at a firm with approachable, knowledgeable people who are willing to assist. I do as much independent work as possible but having a support system around me is invaluable.
Timing is everything
Unless it has already been conveyed, I always ask what the turnaround time is for assignments. Asking the lawyer for a time frame helps manage everybody’s expectations. The lawyer sees that you are organized and committed to meeting his or her expectations and you can prioritize your work accordingly.
If I simply cannot meet a deadline, I make it clear right away. Occasionally I will say, “I can definitely work on that for you. I have an assignment due by the end of the day. When do you want this to be completed?” It is far better to manage expectations at the outset than fail to meet your commitments later on.
Stand out — don’t burn out
When you first begin articling, it can be hard to gauge how many hours you should be working. My firm was rather direct in its expectations: work, but don’t live at the firm. I have had weeks where my hours were long and others where the workload was lighter.
Take advantage of these ebbs and flows. Articling is a marathon, not a sprint, and you want to be at your best at all times. Rest is important and having an alert mind will let you be more productive and the quality of your work will reflect this.
That being said, I also try to be proactive and ask for work when it is not pouring in. Lawyers appreciate a clerk who seeks out assignments, but again, do so within reason. You want to stand out but do not want to burn out.
Get to know the people in your firm
I have made a concerted effort to get to know lawyers in my firm on a social level when the opportunity presents itself. This can include having lunch with a lawyer or spending some time with a group after work on Fridays. These have been wonderful opportunities to get to know the lawyers I work with on a personal level, to hear stories about their professional experiences, their families, and their interests outside of law.
It also lets lawyers get to know you better. It is important for a lawyer to not only respect your work but also appreciate you as a person. Lawyers spend a lot of time at the office and I want the lawyers I work with to see me as a potential co-worker and someone they want to spend time with.
If you work in a larger firm, it can be hard to get to know people working in other departments. Connecting socially can bridge the gaps between the different divisions in a firm and as a clerk — I have learned to take advantage of these opportunities.
My articling journey has only just begun and has already been an incredible learning experience. As for what tomorrow may bring, I don’t know, but I’m eager to see what the rest of the year has in store.