All Our Tips
Articling Students and Young Lawyers: Get a Mentor
I was not hired back after articling. After months of searching (soul and otherwise) I was ultimately offered two jobs at the same time. One was located in a trendy area in Toronto for the “young and eligible”. The other was in a small city outside of Toronto, as foreign to me as another country. I had no idea how to choose firms, other than that accepting the Toronto offer would let me stay in my hometown, as, after all, I was young and eligible, and pay me more (at least initially). So I sent a quick thank-you email to the lawyers that I used as references, saying that I was going to choose the Toronto job. Within minutes I received a reply, subject line: “DON’T TAKE THE TORONTO JOB”. And the replies kept coming, advising me to take the other offer.
Ultimately I followed my mentors’ advice, a move which I have been thankful for ever since. It helped launch my career, find a spouse and make a family, and establish a life in a town that I have come to call home. Sure, if I had ignored my mentors, I would probably have ended up just fine. But with the knowledge that I have come to gain in the years since, I know that given the same options I would make the same decision again.
Mentors have valuable knowledge that can help you as an articling student or a young lawyer. They have the benefit of wisdom accumulated over years of trials and tribulations – dealing with difficult clients, managing the ups and downs of practice, navigating a career – and on top of all that, they know you and can give you advice in light of your character. Offering more than just book knowledge, a good mentor may know you better than you know yourself.
Find a mentor in the senior lawyers you work with, in your colleagues, or with formal networks, by joining your local bar association or a section of the Ontario Bar Association. The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Coach and Advisor Network can connect you with a mentor for a specific purpose. The Advocates Society can help you develop skills. And various diversity associations such as the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers can help you network and connect with like-minded lawyers. Also check out practicePRO’s manging a mentoring relationship booklet.
Subscribe to HeinOnline’s Blog!
HeinOnline is a popular full-text journal database available in the Law Society Library’s Members’ Section. Your firm’s library may also have a subscription.
Did you know that HeinOnline has an excellent blog? Here are some recent research tips from their blog:
- Five Things You Can Do in Less Than 15 Seconds in HeinOnline
- Primary Sources, Secondary Sources and Beyond
- Comprehensive Search Results in HeinOnline Just Got Better
- Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals: Did You Know…?
- HeinOnline: Where Books Rule
We encourage you to consider subscribing to HeinOnline’s blog!
[This tip by Alan Kilpatrick originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]
Get to the Point
A short primer on what is called ‘point first’ writing.
You might be tempted to keep your reader in suspense about your conclusion or even the very subject of your blog post or client update, but that would be a mistake – you aren’t aiming to write a mystery novel or a cliff-hanging thriller.
Like most people, your client is busy and has a short attention span – so get to the point.
Point-first writing is also effective in memos, factums and letters.
Start with your conclusion and then explain how you got there. Begin by expressing the general rule, and then explain the exceptions. Open with the general, then give the specifics.
This will tell the reader what your piece is about, up front. He or she can then decide to read on, in order to get the details or the nuances. The reader can also decide to come back to your piece later (or not at all).
A clear sense of direction right from the opening line guides the reader: the last thing you want to do is force the reader to ask, ‘What’s this all about and where is it going?’
It’s also helpful to wrap up at the end with a restatement of your general point, to make sure the reader hasn’t lost the plot in the mean time.
It’s hard to improve on what Justice Laskin of the Ontario Court of Appeal has to say in Forget the Wind-up and Make the Pitch:
Of all of my suggestions, I consider point-first writing the most important. Point first writing, more than anything else, will improve the clarity and persuasive of your writing.
State your point or proposition before you develop or discuss it. Do not write your factum like a mystery novel in which the conclusion is revealed only in the final paragraph, if at all. In other words, give the context before discussing the details. Indeed, point first writing puts into practice the principle of context before details. Point first writing should be used throughout your factum, both in the facts part and in the law part, and within those parts, in every section and in every paragraph. Whenever you are about to dump detail on the reader, give the reader the point of the detail first.
We see far too many factums that contain long meandering paragraphs, in which the point of each paragraph is never stated, or almost as bad, is stated three paragraphs later. This is not reader-friendly advocacy. You can fix this problem in these ways. At the beginning of the paragraph, tell the reader what topic or idea you are going to discuss in the rest of the paragraph. Try to restrict each paragraph to one main idea or topic. Then, in the first sentence or two of each paragraph, articulate the point of the paragraph, usually your conclusion or submission on the issue. The remainder of the paragraph will discuss the submission, elaborate on it, support it, or qualify it. This is point first writing.
Unfortunately, too many factums contain either point-last writing or no-point-at-all-writing.
Equally applicable to other kinds of legal writing.
To recapitulate: point first; explain; conclude.
Next time: phrases we love to misuse
Avoid Communication Pitfalls With This One Simple Practice
Nothing causes trouble in legal practice quite like communication failures.
Communication is one of the most common sources of malpractice claims.
Honing proactive and effective communication skills has significant positive implications for everything from delegation, to the quality of your work, and the health of your personal and professional relationships.
With this in mind, focusing on improving your communication practices is probably one of the best investments you can make in your career. Where to start is quite simple, with your thoughts.
What are you thinking when you postpone communicating? And how is that serving you?
I work with many lawyers on practice challenges and many of these come down to how they are thinking about communication.
The thought is essentially this: Now is not the best time to communicate about this.
Here is how this thought plays out in practice.
I don’t need to communicate to the partner about my progress on the draft right now. I will get this draft to the partner when it is complete.
Think again. Talk to the partner about when she would like you to check in. You can’t read her mind and she may want an update sooner.
There’s not enough time to respond to this client, their matter isn’t urgent, and nothing is happening right now so I will get back to them later.
Think again. They are wondering what is going on and even if the answer is nothing they need to hear from you. Respond to their email.
These may not be your version of – I will do it later – so do look for what is, and catch the thoughts, and think again.
I recommend a Monday morning, or even daily practice of asking this question:
Who do I need to communicate with this week? And today? And make these communications priorities on your to do list.
When we are caught up in the flow of a non-stop stream of work and deadlines it gets very easy to forget to communicate. This simple practice of checking in with the question – who do I need to communicate with? – will help you keep up.
This post originally appeared in the Lawyer With A Life Blog
Searches that look for all variations of a word can be helpful, but sometimes you need to search for a word or phrase exactly as spelled.
How you do this differs from database to database. In CanLII, use EXACT( ) around the word you are searching for, e.g. EXACT(AIDS). CanLII usually searches for variants of the word, but using EXACT will force it to search for exactly what you have specified.
Quicklaw and WestlawNext Canada both default to searching for both the singular and plural of a search term, rather than all the variants; this means you won’t get as many false hits as on CanLII. However, if you do want to search for an exact term, use singular ( ) or plural ( ) in Quicklaw (e.g. plural (AID) for AIDS) and use #term in WestlawNext (e.g. #AIDS). In Lexis Advance just use quotation marks (e.g. “AIDS”).
Don’t Let Anyone Bully You
This is easier said than done. Don’t let anyone make you do what you know is wrong – whether out of trust, love, or pressure from a bully. If a client tells you to hide evidence or lie, don’t do it. If a supervising lawyer tells you to take a shortcut that only partially fulfills your duties, don’t do it. If opposing counsel treats you maliciously and you want to retaliate in kind, don’t do it. As a lawyer, you are often the last and only person who can say no when someone tells you to do something you know is wrong. That’s why you’re a lawyer, to stand up for justice. Stick to what you know is right.
Malpractice claims have occurred when a lawyer is lured or pressured into shortcuts. In one example, a paralegal established a trusting friendship and business relationship with a new lawyer, but the lawyer was too trusting. The paralegal provided the lawyer with real estate files, but insisted on doing the work including processing all the documentation. The lawyer breached both professional duties and obligations to Teranet by letting the paralegal effect registrations using the lawyer’s electronic land registration account and disk. The transactions were fraudulent and the lawyer was compelled to resign as a licencee.
There are numerous other examples in which you will be pressured – a client instructing you to withhold evidence; opposing counsel encouraging you to settle a file you haven’t investigated properly; and so on. Don’t succumb. Stick to what is right – your Atticus Finch moments are found around many corners.
The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Coach and Advisor Network can also set you up with a mentor to provide you with insight and support.
Let’s Get Personal
With pronouns, that is.
A pronoun is a word that stands for a noun. Example: ‘The guy [noun] I was talking to is a third-year associate; he [pronoun] works in the corporate department’.
That and who
These pronouns have distinct uses: that refers to things and who to people.
So don’t write this: ‘Thanks to all that came to the event’. It’s ‘all who came to the event’ (unless they were robots).
An entity is an it
Not a they. Thus, ‘The bank was subject to a class action alleging that it had overcharged its customers for foreign-exchange transactions’.
You may have read that the ‘singular they’ is now a thing. It’s a thing, all right, but it’s sloppy and incorrect (unless you’re referring to a specific transperson who prefers to be called they; that’s cool).
They must otherwise always refer to two or more persons or things. Where there is only one, and the sex of the person is unknown, logic and grammar demand he or she – or else some gender-neutral but grammatically sound construction.
For example: ‘The company is seeking a new marketing director. Anyone interested in applying should submit his or her [OR JUST an] application by Friday and make himself or herself [OR JUST become, with no pronoun] familiar with the company and its competitors’.
This is what’s called a relative pronoun, which tells us more about the noun it relates to (‘a lawyer whose time has come’) or asks a question about it (‘Whose book is this?’).
Ideally, whose should be used only in reference to a person, not a thing; of which is the logical construction for the inanimate. So, ‘the Securities Act, the purpose of which is to regulate …’ rather than ‘the Securities Act, whose purpose is to regulate …’
That can lead, however, to artificial and clumsy sentences: Fowler’s example in Modern English Usage is ‘The civilians managed to retain their practice in Courts the jurisdiction of which was not based on the Common Law’, which he says could usefully (and perfectly correctly) be changed to ‘whose jurisdiction’ (I’d also take the capitals off ‘Courts’ and ‘Common Law’, which are wholly unnecessary).
So if you haven’t always been using of which for the inanimate, you can relax a bit – but don’t get too casual.
Next: get to the point
I Make a Good Income but Am I Really Wealthy?
According to Moneysense, earning the big bucks alone, doesn’t make you rich. Real Wealth is determined by” Net worth” what you own – minus what you owe. (Moneysense, January 2015) .
A financial plan is designed to help you build your net worth and get more from the money you earn. A financial plan address key areas of your financial life such as:
- How to make the most of your cashflow
- Identifying risks to you and your family’s cashflow
- Creating cashflow with passive investments when you are ready to stop working
- How to clawback your cashflow from taxes
- How to make the most of the cashflow you leave behind.
The question many people fail to ask themselves… I make a good income but am I really wealthy???
Take the all Canadian wealth Test:
CBA’s Child Rights Toolkit
Did you know that the Canadian Bar Association publishes toolkits in multiple practice areas? Today I want to tell you in particular about the Child Rights Toolkit that was launched just May 11 of this year.
This toolkit describes its four main parts as:
Fundamentals – provides the fundamental framework of child rights including where they come from, what they are, who is responsible and the status of child rights in Canada.
The System: Cross-Cutting Themes – outlines available systemic child rights supports and tools and in particular independent human rights institutions and child rights impact assessments.
The Child: Cross-Cutting Themes – highlights subjects that may be applicable to the child or a group of children you work with that transcend all areas of the law, such as Charter rights, best interests of the child, child participation, legal representation and freedom from all forms of violence.
Legal Areas – provides four steps to implement a child rights based approach in practice as well as child rights information and law in specific legal domains such as child protection, family law, youth criminal justice, and immigration.
Each of these opens up an in-depth commentary with labyrinth links to international conventions, federal and provincial legislation, major case law, policy documents, and articles.
Three years in the making, and developed by a long list of content experts, CBA staff, and steering committee members, this toolkit is well worth a good look for anyone involved in the rights of children in Canada or internationally.
[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]
New Lawyers: Document All Client Interactions
New lawyers, I hope this tip will follow you well for your whole career. Begin doing this now and do it every time, to the point where it becomes a habit. It will both help your practice and protect you in the event of a malpractice claim. Document all client interactions, whether over the phone, or in a meeting – even the quick or “0.1” conversation. If you are a young lawyer or articling student who may never encounter a client in your first year, this advice applies to your encounters with senior lawyers who give you assignments. Treat them as your clients, as you are in effect providing them with your legal advice.
When you step into a meeting, take a notepad with you and take notes. This applies even to the meetings where you are told “this will take just a second.” You’ll be surprised how often a second can become fifteen minutes of intense legal analysis. Every time you pick up the phone to speak with a client, open a note in the file and record what was said. Pay particular attention to instructions given to you, and recommendations you give.
When you are asked, ten days, ten months, or ten years after the fact about what happened, you will be able to reference your notes and recall the conversation accurately. Did you miss following through on instructions? Did the client take your recommendations? Did you discuss the possible outcomes and risks of the steps involved? It’s all in your notes – so long as you keep them.