Law school can be a daunting experience. Students often find themselves in a state of constant flux — caught somewhere between what they want from our legal system and the stoic reality of what our legal system demands.
It’s easy to get caught up in your ideals and lose sight of your role as a law student and future practitioner. At Harrison Pensa, I have learned that articling acts as a bridge between theory and practice — a transitional period that provides us with an opportunity to refine what we want out of our careers by acknowledging our two dichotomous roles: the role of steward and the role of innovator.
Primarily, students of law are stewards — we serve and maintain the law, the profession, and our communities.
We have to learn quickly so that we are relied upon to navigate, retrieve, assemble, and draft legal materials. We also learn how the system works procedurally to ensure that we are operating responsibly within it. In doing so, we help maintain and uphold centuries of legal and procedural tradition so that our system may continue to operate as efficiently as possible — and ourselves along with it.
We are also responsible for maintaining the standards of the profession. As students, the way that we carry ourselves, and the manner in which we carry out our work, sets a standard for the rest of our careers. Consequently, we are expected to hold ourselves to a very high standard, especially with respect to public perception. We are new representatives of an old and influential profession, and our conduct in the present affects public confidence in the future.
Finally, we are stewards of our community. At many firms, students are provided with opportunities to interact with their communities. Harrison Pensa is one such firm that is heavily involved in the community. Throughout the year, we are provided with dozens of opportunities to volunteer and fundraise, allowing us to get closer to the community we serve, to make meaningful connections, and to experience first-hand the impact our work has on those around us.
While stewardship may be our primary role, it is no more or less important than our secondary role — the role of innovator. A legal system founded upon common law principles is one of constant growth, evolution, and change; thus, legal practice constantly changes with it. As students and future practitioners, we must be dynamic, creative, and forward-thinking.
Once we have learned how the legal system operates and become comfortable working within it, we can begin to chisel out some wiggle room for creativity. Students are often asked to provide lawyers with their legal opinions and potential arguments: this is where the ideals and passions we may have developed during law school can come back into play.
When faced with legal precedent, students often have the opportunity to creatively argue why a decision ought to be distinguished or binding, or to carve out a whole new path altogether. In fact, it is often our inexperience that allows us to look upon a set of facts with a fresh and creative perspective.
Our roles as students may initially appear to be at odds with one another — one demands that we preserve a traditional, centuries-old legal system, and the other urges us to take advantage of its flexibility to change it from within. In practice, however, they work in concert with each other to establish and maintain a strong foundation for our careers and for the future of our profession.
As an articling student at Harrison Pensa, I have had the good fortune to cultivate and learn both of these roles from professionals, mentors, and friends.
Clayton Brent finished his articles at Harrison Pensa and is now an associate with the Insurance Defence and Subrogation group and the Estates Litigation team.