Dear LiL: How can I be a more efficient articling student and get the most out of my experience? I am feeling so overwhelmed all the time and that I am not ‘learning’ fast enough! ~ Signed The Hopeful Quick-Study
Dear Hopeful Quick-Study:
This is an excellent question. The articling experience is notoriously challenging and often all-consuming. In this post, I outline some strategies for managing the articling experience based on my own experience and what I’ve picked up from colleagues over the years.
There is a Significant Learning Curve
I wanted to speak to this point first, as I often questioned whether I was learning “fast enough” during articles. The short answer is that there is no “right” pace for learning. During articles (and the first several years of practice) you are taking in a lot of new information, and for the most part, you are doing things for the very first time. The first few times you take on a new task, it takes longer to complete. This is normal. My best advice for this point is to embrace the unknown and the uncertainty with all the new information you are picking up and processing.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether you are speaking with an associate, a partner, a paralegal, or a legal assistant. Staff are extremely knowledgeable and can help to guide you in the right direction. I would often build rapport with lawyers’ staff teams as they are familiar with the lawyer’s working style, preferences, and expectations.
There is a way to ask for more information in a professional manner. For example, when speaking with a lawyer who assigns a task, something along the lines of “I’d like to ensure I understand the assignment. Can I run through what I understand the task to be?” then repeat what you understand is the task. The benefit is two-fold: 1) you ensure that you clearly understand what you are supposed to do, and if not, the lawyer can provide further clarification, and 2) as a result of clarifying the steps involved, your time will be utilized efficiently, and you won’t be spending time working on the wrong things.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Precedents are the holy grail of articling (and often, practice). That was always my starting point, particularly with drafting pleadings. The assigning lawyer may have precedents they can flip to you, or alternatively, a staff member may be able to track one down.
Rely on your Peers and Colleagues
Don’t hesitate to ask questions of your articling peers, and your colleagues. Take time to build rapport with lawyers and seek guidance from them when you are stuck or going through challenges. Don’t forget, every lawyer has also articled and knows what it is like.
Have the Right Attitude
I went into my articling experience with an open mind and prepared to learn as much as possible. I took on assignments in as many practice areas as possible, in order to build invaluable skills and to figure out which direction I wanted to go. If possible, try to take on new tasks with a positive attitude. You’ve made it this far; you have the skills to solve issues and you have the network around you to help.
Participate in Social Activities
As much as it’s easy to turn down participating in social events in the midst of articles, I would encourage you to try to go to some of these functions. For one, it is an opportunity for you to meet colleagues and to build important connections. Secondly, the more appearances you make, the more you will become a familiar face at the firm. This also helps to establish your reputation and value to the firm.
As a final note, try to remind yourself that articling is not forever. There is a “light” at the end of the tunnel. For what it’s worth, the articling experience will make you a better lawyer, a more skilled critical thinker, and it builds upon a foundation for practice management. There is no shortcut to becoming an effective lawyer. It takes years of practice and learning.
About the Author
Leyla Salmi is an associate at Harper Grey and practices with the firm’s Construction and Engineering Law Group. Leyla takes pride in giving back to the profession and her community. She currently acts as a Beedie Luminaries Mentor, providing mentorship to students as they complete their post-secondary education.