Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Why I’m scared of the Outlook Chime: Law Student vs. Summer Student

We hear it all the time as students that law school does not prepare you for actually practising law. In my very limited experience, I have found this statement to be mostly true, but not in the ways I was expecting. 

"After almost two months into my summer student experience, here are what I’ve found to be the biggest differences between student life and working as a student within a law firm."

Expect the Unexpected

In school, it is very easy to stick to a routine. Your class schedule is set out in advance, you have roughly the same amount of readings every week, and you know from the beginning of the semester when your assignments are due (at least in theory you’re supposed to). Working in a firm, your days will always look different depending on what’s on your schedule and everything can change in an instant with one email. When I hear the new email chime from outlook I break out in a cold sweat because it could mean that my entire day has been upended by a rush assignment. I even have a minor heart attack when I hear my housemate’s email go off from another room. Despite the panic it induces, I like how my days never look the same and the variety definitely keeps you on your toes.

Assignments Can be Weird

Before I started work, I assumed that all of my assignments would be research memos. While you will definitely have to write memos as a summer student, they are not always the long tedious ordeals that law school can make them out to be. In my experience, lawyers would prefer that they are short and to the point. Similarly, when you’re assigned a research memo the lawyer is normally looking for the answer to a very specific question such as the application of a rule of civil procedure or a very specific fact scenario.

More so than just memos, I’ve found that assignments can range from document summaries to drafting, to things that you wouldn’t normally expect to be assignments. This summer I have internet stalked opposing parties, tried to determine the likelihood of whether a Moose could have been on a highway at a certain time of day and learned about every muscle, tendon and bone found in the knees while reading medical briefs.

Working with Lawyers vs for Professors

Working at a firm sometimes no news is good news. When you submit an assignment and don’t hear anything back that most often means that the lawyer was happy, and you don’t need to do any revisions. When you do get your work sent back it is often completely marked up in red. While this can be demoralizing at times, I have found having this opportunity to go back and edit has been extremely beneficial for improving my drafting skills. In law school, you have one chance to submit an assignment and you hope you get it right on the first try. At a firm because there is always a client on the other side of every assignment you take on you have to get it right but it’s ok if it takes a couple of tries to get there.

Finally, I have found that there is more collaboration at a firm than law school. Even senior lawyers can have questions and it’s encouraged to reach out firm wide to see who has any insights. It has been so helpful having a group of other summer students that you can bounce ideas off of and ask questions. Even if we’re all working on different assignments, chances are someone has already worked on something similar all you have to do is ask!