A legal education has three parts: law school, the bar exams, and articling. In a sense, becoming a lawyer is a challenging triathlon in which we students compete.
I say compete and not merely complete because becoming a lawyer is a competitive process. Not all applicants are admitted to law school, not all who write the bar exams pass, and not all candidates obtain an articling position at a law firm. While the different components of a legal education can seem disconnected, law school prepares students for articling in ways that are difficult to see when in the heat of the race.
Just Keep Swimming
At the start-line of law school, contemplating the workload of the impending three years can be daunting. Staying afloat is an exercise in time management and organization. Managing time means prioritizing what needs to get done in a day, making lists, and maintaining your calendar. Procrastination and disorganization are luxuries not afforded to law students and even less so to articling students. Don’t be intimidated by all that you have to do in ten months, take it day by day. Law school prepares you to be busy.
The Drafting Benefit
Throughout your legal education, the atmosphere of competition can be stifling. As you apply for — and enter into — articling at a law firm, this competition does not diminish. The workload can be feast or famine, so connect with Associates and Partners to seize diverse opportunities. Articling students also network with each other. Law school prepares us to form peer groups that could turn into life-long collegial relationships that make the road through articling — and through our legal career — easier. When everyone takes their turn at the front, a lot more ground gets covered. Law school prepares you to work as a team.
Articling is not a sprint
Through both law school and articling, maintaining your energy requires that you pace yourself. Law school is broken down into deliverables in much the same way as articling. The difference is that in articling there is no course syllabus, you do not necessarily know what assignments are coming up, or when they will be due. While articling, keeping pace with the inflow of work is critical. The rate that works goes out needs to be as fast as it comes in. This requires disciplined scheduling and setting ambitious, but achievable, daily objectives. Law school prepares you to self-schedule.
Consult your Coaches
A law firm is filled with those who have gone before and know exactly what the race is like. Request feedback to improve, seek advice, and track your progress. Unlike law school, you are not graded, so improving and rising to the top is up to you. Law school prepares you to stay ahead of the curve.
Despite the proficiencies practiced in law school, students will gain their most valuable articling experience when they’re in the thick of things. The articling program gives us the experiential training to gain practical legal skills. We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect. Practice is a life-long activity to prepare us for continuous learning. It’s what keeps the legal profession dynamic so we can best serve our clients and our profession.
It isn’t called the legal practice for nothing.
Derek Hambly is an articling student at Harrison Pensa. He has an undergraduate degree in integrated science with minors in economics and political science from McMaster University (where he was valedictorian) and a master’s degree in public policy and administration from Carlton University. He attended Western Law and has worked as a policy analyst for Health Canada. Derek can be reached by email.