SPILL: Advice for your first-day-on-the-job self

  • March 08, 2021

Leaving the halls of academia and launching headfirst into a legal career is a daunting experience that can stir up self-doubt in even the most confident and capable new calls. We asked members of our Young Lawyers Division, who made that great leap not too long ago, what advice they would give their just-starting-out selves. The consensus was clear: Don’t let first-day jitters or discomfort with a stressful situation prevent you from making the most of this new leg of your learning journey or cause you to lose sight of what brought you there to begin with.

Own your practice inexperience…

“One tip I wish I knew was that the practice of law is very different than the study of law and the people who you are working with expect that you know nothing about the practice when you first start articling. It is better to ask questions and treat it as a learning experience rather than pretending you understand things you don’t. Asking a question may save you hours of work that would take a practicing lawyer seconds to answer." - Madelaine Hofford, associate, Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers

… then ask questions

“Be upfront with yourself and others about what you don't know, and ask lots of questions.” - Kate Julien, senior policy advisor, The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario

… and ask early

“One strategy that I find quite helpful is setting up a meeting with a senior or supervising lawyer in the firm early on to seek their guidance on particular questions that you may have before you start on a new file or assignment. It is important to take notes during the meeting and perhaps schedule a follow-up meeting once you’ve started on the file or assignment and experience further challenges that you may require further guidance on. Getting some extra guidance early on can help narrow your focus, save time and direct your attention to the more important areas of a file which need to be addressed.” - Aria Kamal, JD Candidate 2022, Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University

... and ask everyone who can help

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and say you need help from both lawyers and support staff. Everyone is a wonderful resource.” - Olivia Koneval-Brown, lawyer, Mann Lawyers

… but don’t question your value

“I would tell my ‘first day on the law job self’ that I am a skilled writer and researcher and worthy of calling myself a lawyer. Then I would tell myself to relax and take deep breaths in. My spiritual Kyrgyz-born law partner told me a proverb that she grew up with, “slower to start, longer to grow.” Altynay’s proverb stuck with me as I navigated my way through my first few months (and years) of family law practice!”  - Ceilidh Joan Henderson, lawyer, TESHEBAEVA HENDERSON

“I would remind myself that this is the beginning of a new learning period and that I should go easy on myself as I grow and learn.” - Vanessa Carment, lawyer, Soloway Wright LLP

… and, instead, embrace the experience

“Even though you may not know anything about the actual day-to-day practice of law, it’s okay. Being a lawyer isn’t about knowing everything. As much as you might think otherwise, even your senior partner doesn’t know everything, and they, like you, are continuing to learn as well. So, calm down, take a breath, don’t expect too much of yourself, and embrace the learning process.” - Sukhi Hansra, business and technology lawyer, Hansra Law

… without losing sight of what is important

“Remember who your client is. We have a duty of commitment to our clients’ cases, within the bounds of the law, however we find them.” -  Ivan Merrow, associate, Glaholt Bowles LLP

… as you develop your own style and skills

“There is not just one way to be a successful and effective lawyer for your client. Learning from best practices of others is important but just as important is developing your own style of advocacy that suits your personality. “ - Madelaine Hofford, associate, Beckett Personal Injury Lawyers

"My advice would be to follow your skills as much (or more) than your 'passions'. If you find that you are particularly good at a certain practice area or sub-area, embrace it. Although it may be unexpected or obscure, if you’re good at it, it will take you far." -  Alexander Steele, associate, McCarthy T├ętrault LLP

.. and, when all else fails, remind yourself

“Don’t worry, no one else knows what they’re doing either." - Joshua Lerner, associate lawyer, Rosen Sunshine