Ask for help when you need it.
There’s no such thing as a stupid question. Most employers would rather you ask questions than make a mistake that would cause irreparable harm. If your articling principal is busy, try asking other partners, associates, or senior law clerks who may be able to offer you advice.
Take the initiative: ask for more work when you have finished your assigned tasks.
Being willing to take on additional tasks even when they are not assigned to you shows initiative, you want to learn, and are a great team player because you are willing to help others.
Review, review, and review your work before submitting it.
Obviously, it is a good demonstration of your ability when you complete assigned tasks efficiently. However, you should not compromise quality with quantity. Employers would rather you take more time than complete tasks quickly but with multiple errors. Meticulous attention to detail and accuracy are two important skills a lawyer should have. Over time, detailed review will become a habit, and it will be easier for you to spot mistakes, thereby increasing the accuracy of your work.
Always consider the Limitation Act.
Although the limitation period seems to be a no-brainer to all those who have been through law school, it is something juniors often overlook. When assigned a task and/or case to carry, make sure to check the limitation period applicable to your case before commencing an action/claim. Otherwise, you are wasting your time and your client’s money as well as embarrassing yourself in front of your seniors and opposing counsel.
Take part in group outings/socials at your firm.
Before you jump feet-first into impressing everyone at your firm, get to know them outside of the firm environment. It is as important as demonstrating your ability at the firm. Being on good terms with everyone is important because you never know when you may need their help later on in your career.
Maintain a good working relationship with everyone at your firm.
It is generally good to maintain a good working professional relationship with your peers, with the words “professional” in bold. Yes, that means no dating anyone at your firm. Things become complicated when you are involved romantically with a co-worker and it may not be the best idea since it will create conflicts of interest in certain situations and/or causes unnecessary drama which can distract you from your tasks. This also means not gossiping about your co-worker or senior.
Get enough rest and do non-law related things to keep you sane.
For workaholics — and I’m sure most lawyers/law students are — it is important to get enough rest. Believe it or not, having sufficient rest is what keeps us going. While it may not be possible with last minute assignments/urgent requests from clients to get enough rest, taking a few minutes to stretch or get away from the office for fresh air once in a while will benefit you more than you know.
Throughout the week, we are exposed to mostly law-related work, it can be draining. Get into the habit of doing something you enjoy during the weekends. You’ll come back refreshed on Monday.
Check your e-mail/voice mail first thing in the morning.
It is important to keep good habits, and checking your e-mails/voice mails first thing in the morning is definitely one of them. This is especially true if there was an emergency while you were away from the office overnight.
Always follow up with your clients.
Whether or not you have your own carriage of files, your boss’ clients are your clients. Don’t expect your clients to follow up with you. It is your job to follow up with your clients. You have to be on top of things for all the cases you’ve been assigned. Expect to be put on the spot by your articling principal asking you the status of a certain case. By following up with your clients you build your reputation with them. The more on top of things you are, the more they will rely on you and the more likely your articling principal will give you greater responsibility in the future.
Keep a daily journal.
It is a good habit to keep a daily journal during your articling. While some days you may have more to write than others, it is useful to keep a record of the things you’ve learned, the mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve rectified them, as well as to record any milestones you’ve achieved. This record is not only beneficial because it helps you get more out of the articling experience, it will also be a record of accomplishments when you seek future employment.
Never let your ego get the best of you.
While it is OK to be proud of what you’ve accomplished, it is not OK to let your ego run amok. Primarily, don’t look down on others. Just because you went to law school doesn’t mean you know more than other people. It is easy to fall into this trap and make people think you’re too “big” for photocopying or other clerical tasks.
It is important to keep in mind the experience is what you make of it. It is better to keep positive and humble so others are more likely to help you when you need it. All tasks, no matter how big or small are valuable and beneficial for your learning. If you feel you have been given repetitive and non-law related tasks by your articling principal, it is better to discuss this with him/her rather than have an attitude in front of your peers.
Do not take your peers for granted.
It is easy to forget articling is mostly a learning process for you, whether it is paid or not. If it is paid, great. If it is not paid, that does not mean you will not benefit from it. Remember to say “thank you” and be polite to your peers, co-workers, and seniors. It is easy to assume once you’ve been hired as an articling student you’re immediately part of the firm. Articling can be an evaluation process for employers to determine whether to hire you back. It is important to leave a good impression throughout your articling period and that means being courteous to everyone while you’re there.
Don’t be late.
Simply put, it is a virtue to keep your promises. Being late when you say you’ll be there at a certain time means you have broken your promise. It is hard for others to expect a lot from you when you cannot keep even a simple promise.
Do not promise something you know you can’t deliver.
This one is easy, but is often ignored. It is important to be “a man or woman of your word.” If you can’t do it, say you can’t. Do not ever promise a client you will follow up on something when in fact you know you do not have the time or the means to do it. The last thing you want is for your client to complain to your articling principal about this.
Always have at least 10 to 15 minutes of “wiggle room” before and after meetings, rather than having meetings back-to-back. When it comes to client meetings, more often than not, it will run late. It is important to give yourself some room to recover in case something happens.
Don’t wallow in your comfort zone.
This is probably the most important piece of advice. Take on new challenges and don’t settle in your comfort zone and expect your articling principal to give you tasks you’ll readily know how to do. More often than not, learning and growing come when you know least about something and have to start from scratch. Do not hesitate to ask for more responsibility and/or challenging tasks.
Remember that your articling experience is what you make it out to be. Treasure it and make the most of it!
Jenny Poon, currently an articling student at Metcalfe Blainey & Burns LLP, has an LLM from Osgoode Hall Law School and a JD from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.