Many of these tips are geared towards how to do well in law school. What about things students should do while in school to better prepare themselves for their first few years in practice?
As a recent graduate, here are some simple, practical tips I wish I had known when I started law school:
Legal research is the most important class you will take.
Most professors probably tell you their class is the most important one, but in the case of legal research, it’s actually true. As an articling student and junior associate, you will spend a lot of your time researching and writing memos. Often you’ll have tight deadlines and have to research areas of the law that are completely new to you. Knowing where and how to find things quickly will be crucial. Legal research may not be as glamorous or interesting as your criminal and international law courses, but it will be something you use daily. So pay close attention and try as best you can to make it fun.
Don’t sell your textbooks or throw out your class notes.
If you do, you will regret it the first day you start your articling and need to look up that case or legal principle you vaguely recall covering in first-year torts or contracts. Hold on to your helpfully highlighted and tabbed textbooks and class notes — they will be great tools for quick and easy reference. Not all law firms have their own library, and if they do, they may not have the most recent editions of law textbooks you probably had to buy in school. It’s tempting to sell your books when you’re a cash-strapped student, but sell something else instead and hold on to your mini law library.
Your network is just as important as your marks.
It may be hard to believe, but it’s true. In law school the emphasis is all on marks, but making contacts and utilizing them to seek out job opportunities is just as important. Unlike marks, your personal network is unique to you. No one else out there has the exact same network you do, but plenty of people have As and Bs. You may not know it right now, but your next job offer could come from someone you already know. So spend time staying in touch with and growing your network. It will pay off one day.
Take essay courses.
We all seem to avoid essay courses in law school because they can be very time-consuming when you are juggling so many courses at once. Plus, most of us with undergraduate degrees in arts feel we have probably written enough papers to last a lifetime. However, writing law papers is a different skill set from writing history or political science papers. Writing law papers is great practice for all those lengthy legal memos and opinions you will be writing as an articling student and young lawyer. There’s no need to sign up for all paper courses, but taking more than the mandatory minimum is a good idea.
The life of an articling student and the practice of law are very different from law school. All of what you learn in your three years as a law student will help — but keeping these easy tips in mind can help you get ahead and land as an articling student on both feet.
Kathryn Marshall is an articling student in Vancouver. She can be reached at kathryn at kathrynmarshall.ca.