For many articling students the transition from law school to working in the legal profession is a huge learning curve. While in law school you may have completed internships or practicum courses, but these are often relatively short. In these courses you might work under a lawyer for a few weeks without seeing a file through from start to finish. For those students who land a 2L summer job, you work from May to August in a cohort with other students and get a taste of what articling will be like. These are all invaluable experiences where you engage in law outside the academic environment and in the real world. However, articling is the first time students get a grasp for the practice of law. And the transition is tough. As articling students quickly learn, law as a practice is much different from law as an academic discipline.
Here are four habits that can help make the transition easier.
1.Use a calendar
In law there is always more to do. Work hours can easily exceed the generic nine to five we associate with professional jobs. Sometimes there are lulls in work, but more often than not assignments consistently stream in from various lawyers (or judges for the clerks out there). Navigating how to best complete assignments during work hours is a skill developed as you get used to the type of work that you are doing. Agendas, planners, and calendars are key for successful time management. First, they help you track deadlines and how long you’re spending on tasks. If you’re not required to docket you should still track your time to get a sense of how long different assignments take to complete. Visual aids are also helpful in parsing your day and maintaining awareness of your workload capacity. I also strongly encourage you to stick to the chunks of time you have apportioned for certain tasks. Once that block is finished, move on to the next task or you risk delaying other assignments. Also, use your calendar to set reminders for yourself one week out and a few days out from deadlines. Reminders are especially important when you’re juggling multiple competing priorities.
2.Set time aside to read legal newsletters and new case law
A fun, yet difficult, part of law is that it’s constantly changing. There’s always more to read. To ensure that you’re staying up to date, it’s essential to read new case law from the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Legal newsletters also offer insightful analysis and an overview of current trends in the profession. Because assignments and shadowing often take up most of the day, it’s important to carve out dedicated time for reading newly released decisions. Doing so is helpful for the aforementioned reasons but also because it helps you learn to skim and understand how to differentiate between important analysis and generally less significant procedural history. Staying on top of these readings is also helpful in identifying leaders in different areas and the kinds of arguments people are making on discrete topics. Finally, reading well-written judgements and articles provides an example of what skills make writing impactful. If you find a writing style that you like or a way of arguing persuasive, don’t hesitate to integrate that into your own work. While this time is often the easiest to skip over, remaining committed to reading the latest jurisprudence ensures that you’re aware of what’s going on in the profession.
In law school professors are keen to provide feedback on substantive arguments, writing style, and grammar, punctuation, etc. However, as you begin working in a professional setting obtaining feedback can be difficult. In a fast-paced work environment principals and supervising lawyers may not have time to provide in-depth feedback on your work. You may also hear that no feedback is good feedback. This often leads to feelings of uncertainty about whether your research is helpful, on-point, or well-written. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback because if you don’t, you may only receive constructive criticism during formal performance reviews, which sometimes only occur once or twice during your articling term.
One way of seeking feedback is to include a short sentence in assignment submissions. Something like, “I welcome any feedback you may have” or “Please let me know if this is helpful” is generally sufficient. For longer assignments you may choose to send two emails: one with the research and a second asking for a 15-minute meeting to review your work. Another way to self-assess whether you’re hitting the mark on assignments is to ask for the final factum or submission to which you’ve contributed. Once received you can compare the research you submitted with the final product to see whether your research has been integrated and, if it has, how it’s been incorporated. Supervisors are often keen to ensure their students feel content with their articling experience, so if you’re looking for something more, ask.
4.Remember that you’re more than your job
Lawyers often find a sense of self in their work. Many of us come into law because we want to do good in some way. We tend to identify with the work that we do and that’s what makes the work incredibly fulfilling. With that being said, it’s essential to remember that you’re more than a (soon to be) lawyer. Working outside the traditional eight-hour day is a reality of the legal profession. However, not every day should be a ten-hour day. Doing your best to stick to a schedule that allows you to participate in hobbies, spend time with yourself and your loved ones, and re-energize is invaluable to maintaining mental health. It also allows you to bring your best self to work.
Articling is a first foray into working as a lawyer. Use this time to experiment with work hours. For example, if you’re a morning person perhaps you come in a little earlier and leave a little earlier. If you’re the opposite, try coming in a little later and staying a little later. If you find yourself constantly staying late perhaps you might try scheduling a post-work exercise class or dinner with a friend once or twice a week so that you’re forced to leave. Life can easily be subsumed by work unless you intentionally approach your work knowing that there are a constellation of other things that make you, you. While finding work-life balance can be a game of trial and error, I encourage you to use your time articling to find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Creating strong habits now will likely lead to a longer, healthier, and more fulfilling professional life.
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