“Dear LiL: Having been recently called to the Bar, I can occasionally sense some frustration from my supervising lawyers as I find my way in my practice. How can I, as a junior lawyer, build positive professional relationships with the senior lawyers I work with and make their lives easier instead of harder?” ~ Signed Jumpy Junior
Dear Jumpy Junior:
The question that you have posed is an excellent one. This is exactly the sort of thing that you should be thinking about at this early stage in your legal career. Having strong relationships with senior counsel is important, as this will impact the sort of work you will be involved with, and who you will be working with during those early years while you have much to learn.
Here are five areas that you can focus on to stand out as a junior lawyer and build positive professional relationships with the senior lawyers you work with:
1. Get to Know the Senior Lawyer
Each lawyer has his or her own style and preferences for how they like to manage a file. As a junior, it is important to gain a good understanding about how the senior counsel that you are working with would like things to be done and what role they would like you to play.
You can gain valuable intel about this in several ways. You could ask the senior lawyer directly for clear instructions and about what is expected of you. You can also ask other associates who have worked with that lawyer about their experiences.
You should gain an understanding of how the senior lawyer would like you to do things, such as their preferred communication style. Do they prefer face to face meetings? Or do they generally prefer e-mail messages? Do they prefer quick answers to things, or would they like you to prepare more formal memos? Do they want you to run the file and check in with them? Or is the expectation that you will be doing discrete tasks which are assigned to you? You get the idea.
2. Be Organized and Be Prepared
The role of junior counsel is to assist senior counsel and make their job as easy as possible. Assisting with keeping the file organized and helping out with the small things are really effective ways for junior associates to add value, especially early on in your career when you are still developing your technical skills.
When I was a junior lawyer, I started creating a “working file” or a “working binder” to keep key documents that I needed to access regularly. I still do that to this day. You must know your files very well, particularly if you are the junior lawyer on the file. This is especially so if there are a very large number of documents.
It is also imperative that you know the facts of the file and key details. It will be very difficult to assist or add value when working on the file if you do not have a good understanding about what the file is about, who the parties are, and what the issues are. If you are familiar with the file, you will be ready to jump in at any time to assist. More opportunities to do so will likely come your way.
3. Be Proactive and Take Ownership of Tasks
The best juniors take initiative and are on top of things. Take ownership of the file. If you know that there are things that will likely need to be done, take initiative and ask the senior lawyer if he/she would like you to do them.
You should have “bring forward” system in place which includes not only your files, but also all files on which you junior. This is to remind you about the day to day follow up on things, but also important dates. You will quickly become invaluable to senior counsel if they can count on you to staying on top of things.
4. Communicate Well and Frequently
Communication is key when you are working with others on a file. You do not want things to fall through the cracks, nor do you want to be duplicating each other’s efforts. Good communication helps everyone to stay on the same page. Good communication is also essential to managing the expectations of others that you are working with. This should include not only the senior lawyer, but it is also important to communicate well with other members of the team such as paralegals and legal assistants.
5. Be Reliable
Good working relationships are built on trust. If the senior lawyer cannot depend on you, he or she will be less likely to give you more responsibility or more involved tasks on the file. Some ways to show that you are reliable include being timely and responsive to emails, showing up on time, meeting deadlines, and being prepared. It is also really important to be available.
I hope that you will find these tips helpful. There are certainly hallmarks of a great junior and identifying what those are early on in your career will serve you very well.
About the Author
Kim Yee is a Partner at Harper Grey LLP and a member of their Insurance and Health Law Groups. Kim’s legal practice is broadly focused on matters associated with complex bodily injury claims which often involve complex causation issues. In 2016 Kim was recognized as one of Lexpert’s Leading Lawyers Under 40 in Canada and in 2017, she was recognized as a “Leading Lawyer to Watch” in the area of Litigation – Commercial Insurance by the Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory®. She shares her time between Vancouver and Vancouver Island and advises clients across British Columbia, and on occasion in Alberta.