So, It’s Your First Day as a Lawyer

Toronto Call to the Bar Ceremony, September 18, 2013
Photo Credit: Lorne Sossin via @DeanSossin

So, you’re a lawyer now.

After a memorable day of Call to the Bar ceremonies and celebrations, you’ve finally crossed the finish line.  Goal achieved, marathon endured. Mission accomplished

The future is as bright as it is now undefined.  Perhaps you have a position secured. Perhaps you are still looking, or are considering hanging your own shingle.  Or maybe you will opt for a travel break, a bit of R and R, or a non-traditional career, outside the mainstream of legal practice.  These are all good options.

May you all have good luck, rewarding careers, and much professional success in the years ahead.

Legal practice, the administration of justice and jurisprudence itself are all highly rooted in tradition, precedent and the deep roots of the past. It is probably not unfair to say that the legal profession has historically been far more receptive to overdue innovation than instant revolutions, but in the era ahead, we are likely to see a bit of both.

For new calls, this is an exciting time.  You will be at the vanguard of the many advances that lie ahead.  Some changes we can now foresee, like technological modernization of our courts and the emergence of new business models that will compete with traditional private firms to deliver legal services.  Some changes, however,  will likely be dramatic and would look as foreign and unimaginable today as the iPhone would have seemed back in 1986, when I was called to the Bar and the fax machine was the newest thing around.

But while much has changed, much remains the same.

What hasn’t changed since my call to the bar – and what will not likely change in the careers of yesterday’s Calls – is the culture of lawyering, a culture deeply rooted in adherence to our codes of ethics, our commitment to maintaining the integrity of the judicial system, and our understanding of the vital role our profession plays in the lives of those who entrust us with such great responsibility.

You are now a part of that culture of lawyering.  It is populated by an ever-broadening, diverse and eclectic group of individuals, but it is solidly rooted in the best traditions of the profession that have emerged over our long history of advocacy and service in western democracies.

I’d like to simply note a few observations for the benefit of yesterday’s new Calls, to serve as this week’s surrogates for the tips usually found in this column:

  • You will see immediately that lawyering is quite a change from articling.  You must now begin to assume a higher level of accountability – and potential liability – for your opinions, actions, and advice. That’s a serious responsibility, but you can handle it!
  • Find a way to build a practice over time that enables you do the kind of work you enjoy most.  Work-life balance starts right there.
  • Find a mentor.  Or several. As I’ve said previously, figure out whose doors are open to you and walk through those open doors often.
  • Learn about the business of law, from the outset.  There are many new resources on this topic, online and off.  The more you know and understand about the economics of law, business planning and practice management, the greater the asset you will become, wherever you land.
  • Our rules of professional responsibility are extensive, but let me posit one overriding principle: Do the right thing. In your dealings with clients, peers, courts and regulators, just do the right thing.  And if you aren’t sure what the right thing is in a specific circumstance (and there will be times you aren’t), ask for guidance before you act.  Your law societies and more experienced colleagues will be only too happy to assist – but bear in mind, sometimes they won’t be sure either.
  • Use social media – blogging, tweeting and commenting – to demonstrate your knowledge, make a name for yourself, and establish street credibility.  Be creative and emphatic, but don’t overstate, embellish, plagiarize or be offensive.
  • It’s probably an overstatement to describe the chapter ahead as the Era of the Innovator, but it’s not a giant overstatement.  A willingness to adapt to changing market conditions – before it’s too late – may emerge as a necessary skill set.  There are many who argue that we are now witnessing the collapse of the old model of too-big-to-fail firms, large hourly fees, and aversion to technology that sacrifices efficiencies and increases the weight and cost of virtually every matter. Technology itself is eliminating much of the work lawyers have always done.  It may one day eliminate much of the work judges have always done.  So learn about current trends, and be ready to innovate.  Change is upon us.
  • Remember to say thank you to everyone who lends a hand to help you out. It will make a difference.
  • Competence and knowledge are the indispensable tools of our trade.  Work hard at building your skills and knowing your stuff.  Incorporate reading and learning into your daily routine.
  • But most of all, take the time to reflect and enjoy your careers, the people you will work with, the intellectual puzzles you will solve and the challenges you will meet and overcome. Enjoy the success that your Call to the Bar represents and enjoy the pride you and your families will rightfully take in this milestone.

Finally, please accept our SlawTips congratulations on a job well done.

– Garry J. Wise, Toronto (@wiselaw on Twitter)

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