You’re probably very busy, so I’ll keep it brief. I’m three months into my articling term, and there are definitely a few things I wish I knew as a summer student.
First of all, breathe. Like most law students, you’re either a) a perfectionist, b) a high-achiever, or c) eager to please (and if you’re anything like me, you’re (d) all of the above). As such, you’ll get frustrated when receiving your first few assignments. You’ll probably ask yourself: (1) “what are they even asking me to do?”, and (2) “why is it taking me so long?” Relax. You’re not unintelligent, and no, your firm did not somehow hire you by accident.
"What you’re feeling, imposter’s syndrome, is normal."
My first assignment was a brief, two-page initial report on a small claims file – I needed three full working days and numerous meetings with the supervising lawyer before it was submitted to the client. The good news is, I can now draft most reports in a matter of hours. “But when will I be able to work faster?” you may ask. Unfortunately, there’s no exact answer. But by month no. 3 of the articling term, there is a great improvement in both the quality and the efficiency of our first drafts. Also, your mentoring lawyers want you to work hard, but not drive yourself crazy! They’ll never give you work you can’t handle, and they’re always happy to answer questions.
Second, follow your instincts. You will hear all kinds of suggestions from all sorts of people. As a self-proclaimed advice-soliciting aficionado, I can guarantee that some of the answers to the same questions will conflict (and may even fully contradict one another). I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no “one size fits all” on how to approach something (i.e. how to choose your attendances, manage your workload…etc.) Individual critical thinking skills are essential. You “do you”, and if your style needs tweaking, you will get help along the way. And while I’m on the topic of carving your own path, I’d like to quickly mention the use of assignment precedents: they’re amazing time savers, but they are just a guide. We are training to be lawyers and we are expected to be able to draft documents to suit the situation. Also, overuse makes you prone to typos and other sloppy errors (seriously, how many times have I forgotten to change the court file number at the top right corner and needed to reprint the first page). Three months into your articling term, you’ll find yourself having enough confidence to say things like, “well, I can draft a motion record, I don’t need a precedent and if I do use one it will be mine…”
Finally, never turn down an opportunity to learn. Lawyers will ask you: “what’s your capacity like?” Unless you’ve been awake for the last 72 hours straight, or have several last-minute assignments with limitations expiring the next day, you’re not at full capacity. Some of my favourite files started off as a walk-in request while I was neck-deep in other work. In addition, you stop learning the minute you shift responsibility onto something (or even someone) else. Even though support staff can be very helpful; it’s incredibly important that you learn how to do administrative tasks as well. But mistakes will happen, even three months into articling. And when they do happen, do your best to fix it while reminding yourself that it’s all a part of the process (albeit a more painful part).
Students are told that the key to success is to be respectful, humble, and hardworking. I’d also like to add that it’s important to be kind to yourself as well – everyone has to start somewhere.
Yours very truly,
An Articling Student
P.S. Coffee is not a meal substitute, always bring a pen and paper with you everywhere, and remember to pay it forward to the next generation. Good luck