Thursday 12 November 2020

Articling with the Added Bonus of a Pandemic

Needless to say, this year has been a tad wonky. In January, the 2020 law school graduates anticipated a relatively exciting year. We were about to graduate, write our bar exams, and by the end of June, we would be free to celebrate our accomplishments until our articles began.

In actuality, we – like many other students – spent the tail end of the winter semester trying to focus on school while balancing the anxiety and uncertainty that came along with this pandemic. Classes and final exams were online, and social and family gatherings came to a screeching halt. After clicking submit on my final law school exam, I anticipated a very overwhelming sense of relief – law school was finally done! But it was perhaps the most anticlimactic end of a degree, since we could not celebrate with friends, family, classmates, or our schools.

Promptly, the next hurdle came flying our way: bar exams. Could we still write them? Would it be postponed until we were already articling? A lot of uncertainty unfolded in the first few weeks, but then finally, a plan. We were now writing the exams from home. Every student nervously signed up for a time slot to write the exam, choosing our own date of freedom. My last exam came and went. Thrilled to be done, but after these exams loomed over my existence for until early August – it was another anticlimactic end to another grand accomplishment.

Before we knew it, articling was here. With our safety in mind, our firm decided to have us commence our articles from home. This came as a relief, but also spearheaded fresh nerves. Most of my personal nerves came from the concern of how to learn, and produce valuable work from home. After almost two months of working from home, I can confidently say our firm has not let COVID-19 impact our learning or the excitement of articling. I have narrowed down a few tips that have certainly helped me learn how to be a good articling student from home.

1. Call the assigning lawyer with your questions

Assuming I am not the only one, calling a lawyer can feel daunting and stressful. “They’re very busy people, I don’t want to bother them and embarrass myself with what is probably a silly question.” Throw these thoughts out of a metaphorical window. With everyone working from home, I have found all lawyers, assistants, and clerks to be much happier, and free to take a phone call. Not only will you get better instructions over the phone, but it gives you a chance to have a social interaction, and build working relationships. 

"Every phone call you make is an opportunity to learn better, and invite social conversation into your day – which we all need, so try opting for a phone call more often."

2. Use precedents as a tool to produce better work

The single most important thing I have learned is about how to use precedents. Every single document you receive from a lawyer as a precedent should be copied into a folder on your desktop. Do not stop at one precedent per assignment. Meaning, if you come across four initial reports, save all of those initial reports. Precedents are exceptionally useful tools for any junior. They are the starting point when you don’t know how to begin a task. They give you an idea not only of what the style of the document is but also the substance. Having a variety of precedents will allow you to see how one task varies depending on the facts of every case, better allowing you to see what information is relevant for what you are working on. Equally important, being able to review the work of lawyers is one of the strongest resources you have to elevate your critical thinking and the quality of work you produce.

3. Be specific in asking for feedback

Every time I submit an assignment, I make sure to ask for edits, feedback, or revisions. You will not learn effectively if you don’t find out what you have done wrong. Every time you get feedback – as unforgiving as it may feel at times – you are learning. Luckily, the lawyers at our firm are great teachers and are courteous in giving us helpful feedback, which is exactly what we, as articling students, need.

4. Articling student group chats

One of the best resources you have are your fellow students. Although it would be ideal to be in one place together, our student group chat has actually allowed those of us in the Toronto office to work closely with the students in our Ottawa office. 

"My first step whenever I have a question is to canvas the other students through our group chat."

It is more than likely one of them has faced the issue before. Not only are your fellow students a resource, but maintaining a close relationship with them helps ease some of the isolation that can come from working remotely.

Get a cat!

They make excellent office buddies and are great at listening to your ideas.

by Jennifer I.