The 2017–2018 articling term is fast approaching. While articling is an amazing opportunity to learn and explore your interests, it is also a stressful time that strikes fear into the hearts of newly graduated law students. Articling involves the combined pressure of needing to learn how to do everything, while also needing to market yourself as an asset to the firm in order to get a coveted associate position. The following seven tips will help you standout over the next ten months, so that you can successfully launch yourself into that first-year associate position.
1. Bring a notepad with you everywhere you go.
You never know when you will be called into an impromptu meeting or assigned a task on the fly. Having a notepad with you at all times will ensure that you look (and feel) prepared in these moments. You will be able to copy down all of those small, important details that others forget, and your superiors will be pleased that you aren’t constantly asking for details you were already given.
2. Always request a firm deadline at the time a task is assigned.
There is nothing worse than getting an assignment from a lawyer, asking when they want it back, and receiving a response like, “Whenever you can” or, “Sometime next week.” If you and the lawyer have conflicting ideas of what “whenever” or “sometime next week” connotes, your interpretation is not going to be the one that matters.
Sometimes you might have to push, but try to get a solid deadline from them the first time around. You don’t want to have to go back and ask later—even though they did not give you a due date, it will make you look bad. Also, if you go back and ask at a later time, they may tell you that they were expecting it to be finished already, making you look even worse.
Getting a firm deadline will enable you to more effectively manage all of your assignments, which will help you moderate your own stress levels. You are likely to be working on many projects at the same time, for many different people. Having hard deadlines will help you prioritize, and determine whether you can say yes or no to additional tasks. If you really can’t pull a deadline out of the lawyer who assigned the task, then try to get it done as quickly as possible so you can return it to them before they expect to get it back.
3. Log your assignments. All of them.
Each time you get an assignment, record the date you received it, who gave it to you, when it’s due, and what the assignment is. You always want to have a record of what you worked on and when. There is no way you are going to remember that you did a quick memo for Melissa in M&A two months ago if someone asks, but if you log your assignments you can go back and look.
4. Print and read every assignment in hardcopy to look for errors.
When we read on-screen, our minds process content less effectively than when we read the same content on paper. We are less inclined to focus, notice details, and retain what we have read. Reading your assignment on paper will improve your focus and enable you to spot errors your eye missed on-screen.
If you want to take it a step further, you can read your assignments out loud to yourself. This strategy will not only help you identify errors, but will also help you resolve awkward wording. Sometimes we write things without thinking about how they sound, but when you read an assignment aloud, you’ll notice the spots where your words don’t flow properly.
These two proofing tips will improve the overall quality of your assignments. An assignment that is free of spelling, grammar, and awkward wording may not stand out, but one with mistakes certainly will—and not in a good way.
5. Admit your mistakes immediately.
Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone is brave or wise enough to admit them. When you notice you’ve made a mistake, address it immediately. The longer it goes unnoticed, the worse the repercussions might be. A mistake that could have been easily fixed right away may become catastrophic in two weeks’ time.
Remember that most mistakes can be fixed if they are addressed right away. To alleviate the horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, remind yourself that people expect you to make mistakes. Articling is the time you are meant to be learning, so nobody expects you to do everything perfectly.
If you are upfront about your mistakes, you will come across as trustworthy and responsible. People will appreciate your competence in recognizing your mistake, and your professionalism in asking for assistance. Trustworthiness, professionalism, and recognition of one’s own competencies are necessary characteristics for a lawyer. Never try to hide a mistake. If you do, it will inevitably come to light down the line, making you look unprofessional, incompetent, and untrustworthy. This can make or break hire-back decisions.
6. Ask yourself what the lawyer wants to get out of an assignment.
Once you understand the lawyer’s end goal, you will be able to complete assignments that are actually useful to them. Additionally, you will avoid wasting time on something that needs to be redone because you missed the mark the first time. Think of your assignment as a tool the lawyer is going to use to achieve their goal. Then, think about how you can optimize that tool for the lawyer’s use. Consider how the lawyer is going to use the information, and format it in a way that makes it user-friendly for that purpose.
WARNING: Once you start doing your assignments this way, you will start receiving a lot of requests to complete work around the office!
7. Treat everyone with respect.
This may sound obvious, but it needs to be said. Remember, you are the articling student and you’re here to learn. Do not be fooled into thinking that only lawyers have things to teach. There is something to learn from everyone. This goes especially for support staff, assistants, law clerks, and paralegals. These people likely know way more than you do about how things work. They can be an extremely helpful resource if you let them.
You should always accept work from support staff and non-lawyers if you have the time. If they are giving you work, then there is a reason, and you should do it without question. You are not above anyone else in the office, and you are not above any work in the office. Law firms are team-based environments that require an all-hands-on-deck mentality to get the job done. This means tasks will almost never fall into silos because everyone’s job is to do what needs to get done for the client. This includes photocopying, scanning, and other clerical work.