In our first week of orientation back in August, there was a definite sense of nervous excitement. What would our day-to-day schedule look like? What kind of work would we be trusted with? What feedback would we receive? One lawyer imparted this advice to us “take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and make as many mistakes as possible!” Well, I may be extrapolating on that last part, but undoubtedly our mistakes helped us to learn as much as our successes in these last five months.
With that in mind, here are some tips on what is often
overlooked in the “smaller details” category and if given
proper attention can go a long way to ensuring success...
Never Under-Estimate Professionalism
This tip is applicable to both clients and opposing counsel that we deal with on a daily basis and, equally important, with the lawyers and staff at the firm. The work that you receive comes from lawyers at the firm, and while much of the work does come from “The List”, creating working relationships with lawyers and staff ensures that you become their “go-to” when they have a quick assignment and know they can rely on you to get it done. It is good practice to treat every meeting, both internal and external, as a professional obligation that you must be on time for. Following this small tip can help you foster better relationships with your co-workers and in turn help build a positive reputation.
Pay Attention to Detail
This is a lesson I learned personally after drafting a discovery report to the client that did not include page numbers. I was told, in no uncertain terms, I should not draft any document that does not include page numbers. Although it may seem like a small detail, if any document you draft makes it into a trial brief that will be relied upon by the court, the ease of reference that page numbers provide may help both the jury and judge understand exactly what sentence on what page you are referring to, increasing, even slightly, your likelihood of success. Don’t believe me? I personally saw this in action at a discovery I recently attended. It would have saved all parties a lot of time (and client money) if pages had been numbered in the documents that were included in opposing counsel’s Affidavit of Documents. Instead, a lot of time was spent flipping through 60 pages of documents to determine what report opposing counsel was referring to. Never forget page numbers.
On a similar note, it is imperative to review every correspondence and court document alike to ensure that the font type and size are the same, the spacing is consistent, and spelling mistakes non-existent. It is hard enough to formulate a legal argument without holes that opposing counsel can take advantage of, we do not need to give them any other reason to challenge our credibility or competence.
Proper Service is Everything
On every motion I have appeared on or observed if the parties and non-parties were properly served, the motion was granted. While this may not always be the easiest, it sure makes shorter motions run more smoothly In contrast, when parties have been served by mail or courier, both I and my colleagues have witnessed motions adjourned and/or dismissed due to improper service.
Learning how to count the days needed to serve documents, such as a Notice of Motion or Confirmation of Motion, has also been a frequent subject of discussion amongst our articling group. Is it 10 days? Is it 7? If it is more than 7 but less than 14, do holidays and weekends count? The best people to ask these questions are often the assistants – they have lots of practice of ensuring that their lawyer does not miss deadlines and will quickly tell you if your calculations may cost you your motion.
There has definitely been a steep learning curve over the last five months, but our mistakes and questions have helped us to learn. Hopefully, our mistakes will help us to impart some “wisdom” onto the next generation of articling students (who will undoubtedly learn them all over again)!