Insights & Articles
Nine Pieces of Advice For Successfully Navigating Summer Experience and Articles
Now that you’ve secured a summer or articling position, what can you expect once you start working? As we are close to the end of our articling term, we wanted to reflect on our summer experience and our articles. Here are nine pieces of advice that we received and/or would give our past selves if we were to do it all over again:
1. Write Down and Confirm Instructions: Never leave your office without a notebook and writing utensil in hand. You never know when you will get instructions from a lawyer for an assignment. After vigorously jotting down instructions from the lawyer, remember to take a quick moment to review what you wrote down and confirm your understanding of the assignment to the lawyer. Say something along the lines of: “To confirm, the facts are A, B, and C, and you would like me to do X, Y and Z, correct?” This gives the lawyer the opportunity to correct you if you have misunderstood their instructions and prevents any unnecessary billings for the client.
2. Always Ask for Deadlines: When taking instructions for a new assignment, ask the lawyer for a due date. You can also propose a due date based on your own capacity. Say something along the lines of: “If I get this to you by ‘insert date’ would that be reasonable or do you need it sooner?” Don’t just assume the lawyer needs the assignment ASAP, as this will cause unnecessary stress, articling is already stressful enough! The lawyer will likely tell you if the assignment is urgent.
3. Know Your Capacity: It is important that you recognize your capacity to take on work above and beyond what has already been assigned to you. Lawyers are typically quite cognizant of the fact that you are being assigned work from nearly every lawyer in the firm. They will likely ask you what your capacity is before assigning you work. However, if the lawyer does not ask your capacity and you have reached your limit, do not be afraid to let them know. Say something along the lines of: “This sounds like a very interesting assignment and I would like to assist you, however, I currently have the following assignments and am not sure I would be able to meet that deadline, is there any flexibility on that deadline? If not, I would be happy to discuss the assignment with another student who may be able to assist you”. What will likely occur is the lawyer will look to shift their deadline, work with you to shift your schedule and prioritize or they will look to assign the assignment to a student that has capacity.
4. Be Proactive: If there is an area of law in which you want to work or an aspect of practice you would like to experience, ask! For example, if you assisted with drafting motion materials, ask to attend the motion to observe. The lawyers will often make efforts to invite you to observe, but sometimes they forget that students will find stuff like that interesting. Taking the initiative will help you get the most out of your articling experience. You have a lot of control over the direction your articling year takes. Aaron, Audrey, Jonathan and Wincy can say that they have all had very different experiences, despite all articling at the same law firm.
Wincy has shown a keen interest in corporate law and saw that one of the lawyers had a meeting scheduled with a client and their accountants to discuss the valuation of a business. Wincy asked to observe the meeting and the lawyer kindly agreed. This meeting allowed Wincy to observe how the lawyer interacted with clients and how they collaborated with other professionals. Being able to observe these aspects of practice is a crucial part about figuring out what type of law you want to practice and how you will develop your own professional style.
5. Keep an Open Mind: Don’t be afraid to express and pursue your interests, but keep an open mind. Lisa Fraser, Chair of the Student Committee, told us that we should get experience in all areas of law offered by the firm, despite what each of us thought we wanted to pursue.
Audrey started her summer at McKenzie Lake thinking that she wanted to pursue a career in corporate law. However, by keeping an open mind, taking on assignments out of her comfort zone, and talking with the lawyers in the various practice areas, Audrey has discovered a passion for litigation and advocacy!
Aaron knew coming into hist first year summer that he was interested in family law. Rather than pursuing family law at the expense of all other work, Aaron took Lisa’s advice and tried a bit of everything. This not only developed his skills in a variety of settings, but also allowed him to take carriage of files and participate in interesting hearings in Small Claims Court and the Landlord and Tenant Board. While Family law is still Aaron’s passion, he is very glad to have branched out beyond his comfort zone and confirmed his interests. Thank you, Lisa!
6. Lean on Each Other: Articling can be a very stressful and overwhelming time in your career. Its important that you remember that no one will understand what you’re going through like your fellow Articling Students will. Make sure to support one another in any way you can – help each other navigate your workloads and if you’re stuck on an assignment, seek each other’s help! Chances are, one of you has done something similar in the past. A quick Teams message or pop-in to each other’s office never hurts!
On one occasion, Jonathan was assigned a task by a lawyer which was going to require extensive time and effort. By stopping by another student’s office to discuss the assignment, he found out they had done something very similar quite recently. It turned out, Jonathan could use the other student’s work as a precedent for his. By just popping into another student’s office, Jonathan saved the client money and, as an added bonus, he saved himself time and stress!
Aaron, Audrey, Jonathan and Wincy often gather for lunch and in turn discuss what each are working on. This sparks conversations into interesting matters and issues they are having to address. Those conversations have allowed us to know what others work on so we know who to ask when things arise.
7. Sometimes There is No Answer: In law school, research memos always have an answer that the professor already knows. However, work assigned to you as a summer or articling student isn’t the same. The lawyer is asking you to research something because they don’t necessarily know the answer to a question. The law is constantly evolving and lawyers can’t be expected to know everything. It isn’t easy to transition from the notion that there has to be an answer to sometimes not being able to find one. We have all said to ourselves “I can’t tell the lawyer I found nothing” or “What if the lawyer finds something that I missed?” Learning to know where to stop the research is a learning curve but sometimes there is no answer. There are times that you will find yourself in a situation where you will have to report that the research query has not been conclusively addressed by the courts.
8. Keep Formal Attire in Your Office: As an articling student, sometimes you never know what your day will entail. You may be suddenly asked to attend a client meeting or sit in on a court proceeding to take notes. Be sure to be appropriately dressed and always keep a suit jacket in your room just in case a situation ever arises where you need it!
9. Take your Vacation: For your articles, you are given one day of vacation for each month of Articling. It is important that you utilize those days through out your time at the firm. It can be hard to realize when the burn out may come so its best to be proactive and make sure you set aside time to spend with your friends and family, and to do the things you enjoy, of course besides practicing law!