Articling Women (AW) was founded as a chapter of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario to support the career development of women lawyers from the very beginning of their careers. Through a series of programming and events, AW aims to foster dialogue and camaraderie amongst women articling students in the hope of promoting long and satisfying careers for women in law.
AW’s inaugural event, ‘Leaning In to Your Career in Law’, was a panel hosted at the Law Society of Upper Canada on March 18, 2014. Paulette Pommells led a panel of five brilliant women lawyers through discussions of work, life, family, mentors and success in the practice of law. The conversation then shifted to a series of roundtables, each led by women leaders in law. The event was generously sponsored by the Law Society of Upper Canada and Torkin Manes LLP.
We have assembled some tips to help you get through the Articling Process (somewhat) intact!
- Be nice and authentic to everyone, but especially the staff. Always. Not just while articling, but forever. Learn names, say hello, ask how people’s weekends were even and especially when you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off. Be considerate and ask about the systems that are in place so that you don’t make anyone’s job more difficult. (i.e. where should I leave documents for so-and-so? How should I enter my dockets for you?) Such consideration is important to a good working environment and may also inspire people to help you out more readily when you’re in a bind.
- When you’re working with a more senior lawyer, it may be helpful to seek advice from a more junior lawyer or law clerk who frequently works with them. The senior lawyers’ time is expensive, it is helpful to seek guidance from someone who might also better be able to relate to your questions.
- Questions about your assignments will come up and you should ask them, however make sure you have exhausted your available resources before you go back to the lawyer who gave you the assignment. (i.e. have you checked both the paper file and the electronic file? Have you checked the applicable act? The annotated version? An applicable textbook? Have you searched for precedents? Asked an associate who works with the lawyer? Asked the lawyer’s assistant?) When you go back with a question, the first thing they say might be, “Well, have you looked in [blank]?” It’s a really nice feeling to be able to “Yes, I have, and I’ve also looked here and here and here.”
- The other side of tip #3: don’t spend hours “spinning your wheels” before asking a question. You should be conscious of your time, efficient with your resources, and checking in to provide a status update when you’re not getting anywhere might show that you are conscious of that. (i.e. “I’ve spent (however long) researching this question, I have looked at the applicable annotated act and the textbooks, so far I have found [BLANK] but little that is related to your initial question. I will continue but please let me know if you think I can reframe the inquiry in some way.”)
- If you are not the only student, use your fellow articling students. Try to create a team environment where you have an open door to one other to discuss difficult issues, bounce ideas around and seek advice. Often when you are stumped on a legal issue talking it out provides clarity; there is no one better to help than other students. It will be a lonely 10 months if you are competitive and keep your cards close to your chest. The legal world is not a one-person show but involves a team – be a part of one.
- You will figure out quickly which lawyers don’t mind having you drop in with a question, which ones prefer a phone call and which ones prefer email. No matter which form of communication you use, take a little bit of time distilling your question/communication to the essential. It is important to be efficient with time and a little bit of preparation will go a long way.
- Try not to say ‘no’ to assignments when you are busy. Instead, explain what you have on the go and see if you can work that particular assignment into your schedule. However, take time to set realistic expectations. If you get an assignment, make sure you communicate what else you think might impact your ability to make a deadline. It is a difficult conversation, but it is far better to be up front about timing difficulties than to have them create problems at the moment of deadline. Along this vein, it happens that you may take on more than you can chew. In this case, make sure you inform the lawyer that you cannot meet your deadline before the deadline arrives so they can prepare and advise accordingly.
- Be yourself and be positive. Being positive creates a pleasant work environment and is contagious to those around you. It can be as simple as putting a smile on your face even when you are swamped and responding positively when someone asks how you are. Along that vein, allow the people you work with to get to know the real you. Like the interview process, being an associate is also about ‘fit’ and that ‘fit’ is just as important to your career as it is to the law firm.
- You will have the opportunity to work with lawyers, students and staff from other law firms. Whether it be on litigation files or corporate deals, remember that you may work with these people in some capacity for the rest of your career. They may also be some of the best resources to you if you find yourself looking for a job or for a change down the road. Even in an adversarial context, be respectful, considerate and where possible, take the extra steps that will make everyone’s job easier.
- Do the best work you can do but don’t beat yourself up over mistakes (you will make some). Use mistakes as an opportunity to learn and try out all different kinds of law – don’t waste these 10 months being political just for the sake of having a job at the end. Remember that the ability for a firm to hire you back may have less to do with your ultimate performance and more to do with business considerations beyond your control. This is the best opportunity you will have to find out what it is you want to do in your legal career, use it well!
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