Articling is a unique experience for law students; it allows future lawyers to smoothly transition from life as a full-time student to life as a practising lawyer. This transition period gives students the flexibility to be creative and learn how to manage the stress and demands of a full practice in a safe and supportive environment.
I have enjoyed my articling experience at Harrison Pensa, and I was fortunate to receive a lot of helpful advice prior to starting which made the process much smoother. So, as my Articling term is coming to a close in less than two months, I felt it was the perfect time to share my own tips on how to excel in Articling.
1. Be flexible
Flexibility goes a long way as an Articling Student. Flexibility entails accepting that your work (and sometimes outside of work) plans, goals and priorities may change on a dime. While it is very important to be organized and meet all your deadlines, Articling Students must be willing to adapt to work that is outside of their comfort zone, take on new tasks, or complete rush assignments. It can be challenging to embrace the twists and turns as they come – but it also makes the practice of law exciting.
2. Take detailed instructions from lawyers
A pad of paper and a pen are two of your best friends as an Articling Student. Every time you meet or have a call with a lawyer, have that paper and pen ready. It is important to write down instructions clearly and thoroughly so expectations and deadlines are clear.
After receiving instructions, take time to think about them and consider writing them out again, but in your own words. I have found this really helps when I work on the assignment later.
3. Create relationships within the firm
Lawyers: You must make an active effort to establish relationships with lawyers in the firm. Try your best to work with a wide variety of people in different practice areas. Create mentoring relationships with lawyers who are keen to share their own experiences and offer advice. Foster those mentor relationships throughout your Articling term.
Fellow Students: Create positive relationships with your fellow Articling Students. For me, it has been invaluable to rely on fellow students. If I am ever in a pinch, need a second pair of eyes, or need a file covered if I am out of the office, the other students have always had my back, and I am always prepared to do the same.
Clerks, Legal Assistants, and Staff: The clerks, legal assistants, and staff truly make the world go round! I guarantee you that you will need their invaluable assistance many times throughout your articles. Get to know them and treat them with kindness and respect.
4. Work hard, but work smart
While there is no replacement for hard work during your articles, there are certainly ways your experience can be made easier.
Use Precedents: They are your lifeline but use them wisely. Tailor them to your file and ensure that they are current. Law is not about reinventing the wheel; find out what has worked in the past for experienced lawyers and stick with it.
Ask for Help: If you don’t know something, or how to find the answer, don’t waste hours trying to figure it out. While it is certainly encouraged for Articling Students to solve difficult problems themselves, realize that you work with many experts who are always happy to share their knowledge and may point you in a direction you never would think to look.
5. Don’t expect perfection and learn from your mistakes
Accepting that you will make mistakes during Articling is essential. You will make them, and it is easy to get discouraged.
While you should always strive to do your best on all assignments, you must remember that Articling is a steep learning curve for all, and mistakes can happen. Dust yourself off and use those experiences to improve your legal skills. I have found that my mistakes have led to a sharpening of my problem-solving skills and an enhancement of my attention to detail.
Overall, Articling will be one of the most challenging but rewarding times in your law career. You will be thrown into complicated matters and pulled outside your comfort zone, but it is important to be open to the challenges these experiences will present because the knowledge you will take away from them will be unprecedented. If you can do this, and keep a positive attitude, there is no doubt you will excel during your articles.
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