“Dear LiL: I will be starting my articles soon and I am very nervous. I don’t know what to expect. Do you have any advice for me starting my articles at the tail-end of the pandemic?” Signed ~ Searching for Guidance
Dear Searching for Guidance:
Congratulations on securing articles, and for completing law school during a global pandemic! You have already accomplished a lot and should be proud of yourself.
The pandemic has impacted us all in so many different ways. For example, I was not expecting to write my final law school exam in my bedroom nor was I expecting to work-from-home for most of my articles. While I am sure this isn’t the articling experience you expected, know that you are not alone.
Starting a new role is nerve-wracking. Starting a new chapter in your life in a global pandemic – well that is another beast all together. The last nine months for me have been interesting, to say the least. Articling is a rigorous experience. Covid-19 added another level of complexity which I was not expecting. However, at the end of the day, I would not change any part of my experience.
I learned a lot during my articles. I learned how to communicate effectively with senior lawyers and clients, how to manage my time and deadlines, how to efficiently research the law, and how to analyze legal issues. Since I did not have a typical articling experience due to Covid-19, I learned a lot of other things too! I have made a list of my top-ten takeaways from my articling experience, and I hope that this list will help you as you start your articles.
1. You have to take initiative to build connections.
Unfortunately, with most of the firm working from home for the majority of my articling year, I learned very quickly that it was up to me to “meet” lawyers. When lawyers would assign work, I would always ask to have a quick Teams call just to touch base about the file. This gave me an opportunity to ask any questions I had, and also put a face to the name.
2. Virtual coffee chats are not awkward unless you make them awkward.
At the start of the pandemic I was terrified of virtual meetings and hangouts. I found them to be awkward and so formal. However, I realized that virtual coffee chats are different from in-person meetings and that is okay. I found that they were shorter and there was sometimes less “chit-chat”. I also found that I did have to prepare more to avoid the dreaded dead space. I would brainstorm a few questions to ask in case the conversation started to die.
3. You have to follow-up and take initiative to seek out work.
While this is not pandemic-specific, I think working from home made me realize how important it is to follow-up with lawyers who I am working with. At the end of the day, it is your articling experience. You only get out of it what you put in. Lawyers are very busy, and sometimes out of sight means out of mind. Since we couldn’t just pop into offices during the pandemic, we had to virtually pop-in and follow-up on files. You are not being annoying; it shows initiative and lawyers appreciate it when you follow-up or suggest something you could assist with.
4. Working from home really blurred the line between an office and a home.
I learned that it was very important for me to still stick to a schedule. I tried my best to wake up at the same time, even if I was not driving into the office. I wanted to mimic my office schedule as much as possible. This meant meal prepping on Sunday nights to avoid trips to the kitchen during the day. I also forced myself to change out of my PJs, even if it was just into a sweatsuit. I found that the schedule and the mental separation helped me stay productive and treat my home space as a workspace.
5. It’s okay to set boundaries.
I found it very difficult to log offline when I took my vacation days, especially since I had work to do, although not urgent, and I was not doing anything special. For me, taking vacation meant sitting at home watching Netflix since travel restrictions were in place. However, I forced myself to leave my home. Whether this meant going for a walk or a drive, I had to at least do something on my days off. Taking time for yourself is so important, especially when these boundaries blur. I can see how people experienced the ‘work from home burnout’. To avoid this, I tried my best to stick to a schedule and treat my vacation days like real vacation days. Taking days off also trains you how to balance your workload and manage your time.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
You will have a lot of questions! I certainly did. It is inevitable that you will feel lost and have no idea what to do or where to start looking. In this scenario, use your “call-a-friend” card. Reach out to a fellow articling student or junior associate. During your articling year, you have unlimited “call-a-friend” cards. Don’t be shy to ask for help or to ask questions, even if it is over an email or messaging system.
7. Don’t knock it until you try it.
While this is not pandemic-specific advice, this is a piece of advice I received when starting my articles. I had an idea of what practice area I was interested in based on my law school experience. However, I was told to be open to work from all practice groups and areas. I am so glad that I listened to this advice as it led me to my current practice groups.
8. Use all the resources offered.
Sometimes while conducting legal research, especially when doing it online, I would only rely on online databases and search engines. However, as I went through my articles, I realized that there are so many more resources out there. I would encourage you to attend seminars, read textbooks, and talk to other people at your firm. You are an articling student. Use this time to learn and explore the resources offered by your firm.
9. Find an organization system that works for you.
For me, this meant I had a pink cover sheet on my desk for each file I was actively working on, with a list of do-to items and key notes. When the work-from-home order came into effect in the Fall, I started digitizing this. I still kept my paper to-do lists, since I like to physically check things off my list and see on one sheet what I need to do, but I also started to flag emails and diarize the deadlines in my Outlook calendar. This system worked for me but took me a few months to become comfortable with. I recommend you spend some time figuring out what organization system works best for you. While this system will change as your practice changes, it will be beneficial if you have some sort of file management and diary system in place.
10. Own your mistakes.
As an articling student, you will make mistakes, whether it is a typo or forgetting to include a case in a research memorandum. You are still learning, and the practice of law is still new to you. When you make a mistake, learn from it. Recognize what you did wrong and why you did it, and how you can prevent yourself from repeating it.
I hope that you will find some of this advice helpful. If you have any further questions or want to chat with someone who just finished articling during a global pandemic, feel free to reach out to me! Good luck as your start your articles!
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.