For Women in Law By Women in Law

“Dear LiL: I’m ashamed to say, as an articling student I feel completely out of my league. This experience has been nothing like I pictured it would be when I was in school, and I have anxiety over the smallest research assignments. My confidence is shot and I’m starting to question if I can do this at all. Any helpful tips on how to get over myself?”

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Dear Out of My League:

Know you are not alone in how you are feeling. I would hazard a guess that most articling students feel out of their league, at least some of the time. I know I did. It comes with the territory. We learn all sorts of valuable things in law school, but often we still arrive on our first day of articles feeling ill-equipped to tackle the assignments that come our way (let alone the other aspects of articling that we must navigate).

I recall one of my very first assignments (as a fresh-faced summer articling student) was drafting an opinion letter for the managing partner. I will admit I was slightly terrified. As I worked on it there was one pesky thought playing on a loop in my head: I’m just a second-year law student, how can my opinion be useful to a senior partner? It felt like I was destined to fail. After a serious amount of fretting, I decided that all I could do was try and see what happened. I had to quiet the little voice in my head telling me that if I failed at this task I might as well pack up and start looking for a new career. So, I started with researching the issues. Then, once I had an overview of the law, I began to think about how it applied to the facts of our case. Then I worked on an outline. By that time, the task didn’t seem quite so daunting. So, my best advice for you, Out of My League, is simple: break your assignment down into small steps, then just dive in.  Your confidence will start to grow with each task you check off your to-do list. And before you know it, you will be passing on your own advice on articling to a new group of incoming students.

When I look back at some of the most anxiety-provoking moments of my own articling experience, I can now identify several factors that contributed to the anxiety that were within my control to change.

Aiming for perfection

Like many law students and lawyers, I struggle with perfectionism. One lesson I’ve had to learn again and again is that perfection is not a realistic standard to set for myself, and it is likely to lead to disappointment. Also, aiming for perfection can be paralyzing. It often prevents me from really digging into something and getting it done, as I waste time worrying about whether the end result will live up to my sky-high expectations. Instead, I try to focus on doing the best I can, acknowledging that I’m still learning.

Viewing mistakes as a personal failure rather than a learning experience 

One of the most important things I learned through my articling experience is that mistakes are inevitable (lawyers are human, after all). Viewing them as a learning experience rather than a personal failure makes them much less scary and awful when they do happen. Even the best lawyers made mistakes along the way (and sometimes still do). The ability to bounce back from mistakes and recognize what you might do differently next time will go a long way. Law is a humbling profession. Try not to be too hard on yourself as you learn.

Losing perspective 

Sometimes, all we need is a mental break and a little perspective. It can be helpful to take a step back from whatever assignment is causing you anxiety. I find a walk in the fresh air or a few minutes of Netflix can do wonders in terms of helping me re-set. Then, remind yourself that you’ve got this

Think about how far you’ve already come, Out of My League. You survived the LSAT, three years of law school, and successfully secured an articling position. Completing your articling year is one last steppingstone on your way to becoming a full-fledged lawyer. Your track record leads me to believe that you can certainly do this.

About the Author

Aynsley Severide is an associate at Harper Grey LLP with a practice focus on representing clients in two main areas: health law and family law.

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