“Dear LiL: As an articling student I really appreciate feedback on my work – but I’m not sure how to ask for it. Any tips?” Signed ~ Looking to Grow
I was recently told that the only person who can really push you to succeed is yourself. And while it’s not a groundbreaking revelation, hearing this turned on a light for me. I realized that if I want to succeed and thrive in my legal career, I’ll have to take matters into my own hands. Although I’m surrounded by a network of lawyers who will build me up, ultimately the success of my career depends on me, and especially on what I do early on in my career.
As a junior lawyer, I’m constantly learning from senior lawyers with more experience. While observing more experienced lawyers is helpful, I have found that most of my growth comes from when I ask for direct feedback. Asking for feedback is difficult as you open yourself to criticism. But it is an important exercise to go through.
Over the past year, I have started to ask for feedback more frequently. Like all young lawyers starting their career, I am determined to learn as much and grow as much as I can. Asking for feedback directly has been very helpful for me to determine my strengths and weaknesses and focus on areas of development.
There are a few tips I wish I knew before seeking feedback from senior lawyers and partners. And while I can’t turn back the time and tell my younger self, I can share what I now know with you!
1. Before you approach another lawyer for feedback, think about what feedback you want.
Are you asking for feedback on your writing on a recent letter you drafted? Are you seeking feedback on your legal analysis in the liability opinion you sent to the client? Whatever it is, think about what you want and try to be specific and mindful about it.
2. Book a meeting.
Ask the senior lawyer on the file if you can have 10-20 minutes of their time to speak about your work. When you book the meeting, advise them that you want to speak about file X, and more specifically that you want their thoughts or feedback on Y. This way you both can think about the work product prior to the meeting and the feedback can be targeted. Depending on your involvement with the other lawyer and the specific file, it may be beneficial to seek more general feedback at first. However, in my experience, I have found that the more specific comments I receive, the easier it is to reflect and act upon.
3. Take notes.
When another lawyer gives you advice or something that you can improve on, write it down. This will help you reflect on it after your conversation. You can also use it to track your progress. I like to send emails to myself and save it into a file called “personal development”. The emails I send myself are brief but have a few notes of the conversation I had. I then use these notes the next time I’m working on a file with that lawyer or working on a similar task.
4. Think about who you should be seeking feedback from.
If you work for many partners, for example, it may not be necessary to ask them all for feedback or thoughts on your work. I personally like to ask the 2-3 partners who I work the most with. I’m also seeking feedback from the lawyers in the practice groups that I’m most interested in. Of course, asking for feedback and trying to develop as a lawyer is not a bad thing. But asking too many people may be overwhelming.
5. Try to embrace a growth mindset.
The feedback you receive may not be entirely positive. During your first few years of practice, it likely will be constructive. The first step is to be open to criticism. Recognize that you have so much to learn. While it may be hard to hear, this is the only way to improve. You need to identify your weaknesses to address them. The next step is to reflect. Are you making the same mistakes over and over? What can you do differently? Are there resources you can utilize or is this something that you can develop over time with more practice? Asking yourself these questions will help you consider the feedback you have received. The last step is to act on the feedback. What are you going to do next?
Make seeking out feedback a part of your regular practice and your personal education. While it may be difficult at first, I strongly encourage you to embrace a growth mindset and ask for direct comments throughout your practice. Hope this helps!
About the Author
Karina Alibhai is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Commercial Litigation and Construction Groups. Karina joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2020, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2021. She received her bachelor’s degree, from McGill University in 2017, where she focused her studies on International Development. Karina attended law school at Thompson Rivers University and graduated in 2020.