Articling Tips for Students-at-Law

As summer arrives, so does a new articling season throughout the nation.

The future of articling has been subject of much debate over the last year.  With the dust now settled on those deliberations,  Canada`s law offices will, over the next few months,  begin to welcome their new crops of eager and talented students-at-law.

For many students, it will be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. And since articling rarely comes with a user manual, here are a few SlawTips for Students-at-Law on succeeding and navigating through the many challenges ahead in your new articling gigs:

  1. There are no shortcuts.  Articling is hard work.  So is lawyering.
  2. Find a mentor in your firm or elsewhere, and establish a trusting relationship.  Make it your business to identify the doors that are most open to offering you guidance and support, and enter them as often as is reasonable and comfortable.
  3. Ethics, ethics, ethics.  You are in the final phases of becoming a legal professional.  You must now be acutely aware of the professional duties and responsibilities of our profession.   So bookmark the applicable Code of Professional Conduct in your province or territory, and read it. Often.
  4. In particular, always strictly abide by your duty of confidentiality – at home, at work and at play. No exceptions. Period.
  5. You will meet many people you admire in this industry.  You will probably also encounter a handful (or ten) that you don`t care for as much.  Be civil at all times, nonetheless – with colleagues, clients, court staff, opposing counsel and the judiciary.  It is your duty.  It will also make you a better and more respected professional.
  6. Be concise in your written and verbal communications. Avoid legalese. Edit all redundancy from your work, and make it your point to just get to the point. Proof read everything twice.  Check your spelling, grammar and sentence construction.  Make the consistent submission of well-written, error-free work the hallmark of your articling career.
  7. Seek clarification on your assigned tasks and instructions as often as is required.  If you aren’t sure about the parameters or requirements of a project you are working on, ask someone who knows for direction.
  8. Demonstrate respect and appreciation for the law clerks, legal assistants and support staff at your firm.  You will soon come to appreciate their knowledge, experience and vital contributions to the successes of the practice you have joined.
  9. Remember to say “thank you.”
  10. Work with only one file on your desk at a time.  Your desk is not a filing cabinet or storage counter.  It is a work space.  Eliminating clutter will improve your concentration and reduce the risk of error.
  11. Be over-inclusive rather than under-inclusive in your research and written work, especially at the beginning of your articles.  Doing more than is necessary is always preferable to doing too little and possibly missing the point.  Over time, honing in on the central requirements of your assigned work will likely become second nature.  It is one of many skills you will acquire.  In the meanwhile and thereafter, cutting corners will never be O.K.
  12. Your legal education may seem at first to have prepared you for surprisingly little that you will encounter  as a student-at-law.  Over time, however, you will likely see that your legal education has trained you well in the methods you can employ to acquire the knowledge and competencies needed for success as a student and a lawyer.
  13. Procrastination and “file avoidance” are serious occupational hazards for lawyers.  If you feel these issues creeping into your professional life, the solution is a simple one.  Just do something – anything – on that file or task you have been leaving behind.  Make a call, draft a memo, send an email or speak to a mentor.  But do something.  Create new momentum. Don`t let a matter sit. If it sits, it will just get worse.
  14. If you have made an error – big or small- advise your supervisor or principal immediately.  The solution will often be simple to implement and you will have managed risk effectively.
  15. Experiment with technology, and to the extent your firm permits it, use software, the web and mobile apps to augment your effectiveness and skills.  Even if your firm isn`t paperless, try to limit the amount of paper you consume and waste.  Use your iPad, iPhone (or reasonable imitations thereof) as often as you can.  The world is going mobile.  The legal profession will catch up, eventually.  You don`t have to wait.
  16. Become a regular reader of Canada`s many excellent law blogs, journals and legal magazines.  They will make you smarter.  I promise.
  17. CanLII and Google are a student`s best friends.
  18. Get involved. Find the time to participate in and enjoy the extra-curricular activities and culture of the legal profession.
  19. If your articling experience does not meet your needs and expectations, don`t be trapped. Actively look for a better fit elsewhere, and if it presents, make a move.  Having said that, it will always be in your interests to maintain positivity and professionalism in every environment, so long as you are there.  There are worse things to do than working through a challenging situation.
  20. Lawyers are real people and so are you. Learn the skill of maintaining work-life balance, whatever the demands upon your time may be. Articling marks the beginning of a critical professional and personal journey.  You will need to be comfortable in your own skin to succeed and enjoy your career.  So be yourself -always – and let your innate ability and personal strengths shine.

In short, make the most of your articles.

Enjoy observing your own growth.  It will be quite rapid –  and quite gratifying. You will almost certainly look back on your articling year fondly and frequently as one of the key building blocks in your career. And however it plays out, it will be over before you know it.

Good luck then, to all 2013-14 students!

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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