Monday, December 09, 2013

Things I Learned in My First Months of Articling (that I could never have learned in law school)

In the days leading up to the beginning of my articles, I was surprised at how little I could do to prepare myself for what has thus far been the most significant experience in my legal career. While law school certainly prepares you with the technical knowledge you will rely upon constantly during your articles, reciting the legal principles you have learnt in class will sadly not be of much use during your first few days of working at a law firm. 

Rather the two things I learned during my first month of articling are as follows:

Finding your professional self:

At the risk of sounding incredibly cliché, one of the most significant takeaways thus far in my articling term has been gaining a better understanding of who I am as a professional. I use of the term “professional” as oppose to “lawyer” or “advocate” because quite frankly, as an articling student early in the term, the first step has been to further hone in on my skills as a competent professional.

The simplest tasks, whether chasing down paper in court, making a phone call to opposing counsel or even just interacting with clients have felt like major victories and have been extremely telling as to what my approach to work and style of advocacy will be.

For example, as a soft-spoken person far from the stereotypical assertive, hard-hitting lawyer, I was surprised to learn from my experience in engaging in settlement discussions that I could be a rather aggressive negotiator. Simply learning how you conduct yourself in a professional setting, and recognizing your strengths and weaknesses can be extremely helpful in gaining confidence in your abilities as a future lawyer.

Learning to “hit the ground running”:

If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase “hitting the ground running” to describe the experience of articling at a law firm, I would probably be able to retire before even beginning my legal career.

Ironically, as often as I would hear about it, I don’t think I truly understood what it meant, until I experienced it for myself.

While law school certainly provides you with the skills to manage your time well, and to cope with mounting pressure, it is far too structured to adequately prepare you for the element of surprise that comes with entering the “real world”.

A file that at first glance seems simple and straightforward can morph into a difficult and challenging one, simply because of an issue about the disclosure of a single document.  By the same token, a file you have worked on for weeks can suddenly disappear and reappear from your task list without any real warning.

Having reached the midway mark of my articles, I have come to define “hitting the ground running” as managing your workload within the realities of legal practice - and handling the surprises you will inevitably encounter - to develop as a professional.

- Simran Bakshi, Student-at-Law, Toronto

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