Trial by Fire: Correcting the record edition

Trial by Fire: Correcting the record edition
Last month I had the pleasure of attending The Advocates’ Society fall forum for litigators under 10 years of practice. This year’s theme was profile building, and social media was a regular topic. Several senior lawyers and judges reminded us that the Internet is forever — a fact that haunts me every time I think about the Trial by Fire columns I have written over the past three years.

As this is my final column, I decided to engage in the cringe-worthy exercise of reviewing my past writing. In doing so, I found some advice and experience to be invaluable in my practice, and I want to emphasize those points again. I found other material to be, well, underwhelming, or to be outright contrary to my experience. This is my “Being Erica” moment, where I get to turn back the clock and have a do-over. Welcome to “Trial by Fire: Correcting the record edition.”

The Do-Overs

1.    Checking e-mail on vacation

In February 2012, I was gearing up for my first vacation from practice. As a student, I had a terrible time taking holidays without anxiety. As an associate, I wanted to control these anxieties and have a clean break from work. Consequently, I proposed to let my assistant filter my e-mails and only pass along the most important ones during my absence.

I’m wincing even as I write this.

Let me be clear, my assistant is incredibly effective and I have an enormous amount of trust in her. But I’m responsible for my practice, not my assistant. And I knew that, which is why I still checked my e-mail every day of that vacation and every one since.

I also think vacation practices depend on the person. For me, I have a better time on holiday if I can do a quick morning and afternoon check of e-mail. I expect and hope to one day get to a place where I’m comfortable not checking e-mail daily. But, as with many things, that will come with time. I’m just not there yet.

2.    CPD basics column

What a snooze. Obviously, a summer column. Sorry about that, guys.

3.    We don’t need another hero (or, go easy)

While this isn’t quite a do-over, the experience of reading my columns in one sitting made me realize I’ve recommended: internal and external business development, joining a not-for-profit board, exercise, volunteering in a clinic setting, having fun with your colleagues outside of work, finding a sponsor, meditating, reading the Rules from cover to cover, creating a spreadsheet of your files, and more, all while taking regular holidays. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

To be clear, these are just things I’ve been trying out along the way. The point is to find what works for you. Do not take my columns as a roadmap for the successful associate. The successful associate, in my view, is one who is building her skills, enjoying her work most of the time, and managing to maintain her health and important relationships all the while. Figure out the mix that works for you. It’s better to get some sleep than read the Rules just for interest’s sake (though don’t underestimate the connection between the two).

The Keepers

1.    Just pick up the phone

I am approached regularly by lawyers about this July 2012 column. Apparently our generation of lawyers is far more reluctant to just pick up the phone to call opposing counsel. Senior lawyers have told me how desperately they wish telephone conversations would remain the go-to form of communication between counsel.

I’m a social person, so that’s no problem for me. But I also love the better sense of the opposing party gleaned by phone. As I had already discovered by July 2012, “it’s much easier to get juicy information over the phone.” This has held true.

2.    Talk to your colleagues (especially when you don’t want to)

I passed on this advice from my mentor at work in my May 2012 column. I love talking about my files with colleagues. Bouncing ideas off of other smart people improves my work quality, my confidence, and my overall client service.

In situations where I’ve found myself in a jam, talking to my colleagues (and especially more senior ones) has been so useful. And I’ve learned the times when I *least* want to talk, because I’m embarrassed or afraid I’ve made a mistake, are the times when I most need to. I am so fortunate to have generous, thoughtful, experienced people to rely on, both inside and outside my firm.

I also make a point to celebrate wins of all sorts with colleagues. The closed-door dance parties I mentioned in December 2012 are still very much a part of my work life.

3.    Focus on the marathon

I love being a lawyer. Part of my journey in writing this column is my attempt to ensure I’m developing the skills and insight I need to be a lawyer for decades. That’s what I’m in it for.

So I think we all need to do what we must to protect that sustainability, whether it’s figuring out the practice area(s) where you fit (and where you don’t), and creating a life around work that is meaningful. Give back to the community, whether through pro bono work (December 2013) or through non-legal work, like joining a not-for-profit board.

I also take a long view with colleagues and clients. I say thank you every time one of my bosses gives me a new file. These partners are sustaining my practice right now, and I’m grateful for that. I also care deeply about my colleagues (see December 2012), both inside and outside my firm.

A friend pointed out to me recently that if all goes according to plan, we will be colleagues for the next 30 years. That gives me chills. I think that knowledge from the outset of a career is really special, and should motivate us all to build high-quality relationships.

So, the journey continues for me, with a lot more skills and insight than when I set out. I’m grateful to Canadian Lawyer for the opportunity to share my thoughts over the past three years, and particularly to the many lawyers across Canada who took the time to reach out to me (even once in the women’s washroom at a conference!) to share personal stories. I very much enjoyed hearing from you and learning from your experiences, too. We’re all in this together.

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