Friday, 7 November 2014

From Sweatpants to Suits: Transferrable Law School Skills

During the OCI In-Firm process, it was refreshing and so rewarding to be on the other side of the hiring process for the first time in my legal career. Being able to talk about my law school and work experiences to my future colleagues was an invaluable experience. It also allowed me to reflect on my own personal journey and how I have grown so much already in my three months of articling. The tools and skills I have learned while working full-time would not have been possible without some of the unwritten skills I picked up while in law school.

Three skills a law student should develop while at school, well before they even step foot into a law firm.

To this, I thought I would shed some light on three of the law school skills that allowed me to succeed during articling and I have found so important to continue during my articles. These skills are not found in a textbook but are developed through your own trials and tribulations.

Punctuality is Key

In a class of 70, everyone is annoyed by the student who comes in 10 minutes late, loudly climbs over people to find a seat and then opens their laptop only to find that their sound was left on and the “start up” sound blares thus disrupting the entire class. The same is true while in practice – you can’t walk into a boardroom, while everyone is seated and the meeting organizer has already started talking, and hope to go unnoticed. Clients and Supervising Lawyers expect you to demonstrate your professionalism when invited to a meeting and when given a deadline on a task. Being punctual displays that you take your work seriously and can be relied upon to follow through with all responsibilities. Getting into a routine early on in law school and making it on time to those 8:30 am classes will make the task of being in the office by 8:30 am every day much easier.

Find a Mentor

Whether this is done formally or informally, having someone to go to who has “been around the block” will help when you have brain teaser questions like what the Rule of Perpetuities is or even what the best sushi restaurant in town (or on-campus) is. A mentor helps ease the transition into your new surroundings which I have found to be even more valuable while in practice. Law school teaches you how to become a lawyer, but only being a lawyer teaches you how to really practice law. There are many tricks of the trade that can only be learned on the job and knowing that you have a safety net and can confide in a seasoned lawyer makes this transition a lot smoother and a world of a difference to an articling student. A mentor allows you to feel comfortable asking any number of questions to ensure you find out the right answer and thus develop your skills.

Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead

While in law school, the exams or papers that you did better on were not done the night before on seven cups of coffee. Personally, when I had the time and energy to study for a longer period of time or do multiple drafts of a paper, the end product was always better. So when doing work for an assigning lawyer, it should never be left to the last minute. You want the quality of your work to stick out in that lawyer’s head for the future. You want them to trust you with any matter that comes your way and leaving an assignment to the last minute will ultimately produce an inferior product.

compliments of free digital photosThis goes hand in hand with planning out your day and week with a detailed schedule. Having a daily routine and knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished on a given day makes me less stressed and more prepared. If you plan ahead and give proper timelines for your regular assignments, you will be in much better shape to take on and deliver a quality product for any last-minute, rush assignments that will definitely come your way. Everyone has their own way of planning, whether it is through a manual day planner or an electronic tickler system. The important thing is that you establish one and stick to it. This will definitely benefit you while you are an articling student, and well into your future.

As well, with the right time-management skills now, students can maximize their study time so they can also enjoy the great social times that law school brings.

These three skills represent what I think are invaluable for a law student to develop while at school, well before they even step foot into a law firm. What other skills will you develop and hold onto while you make the transition from student to future lawyer?
Sean V.