“Dear LiL: I’m a fresh articling student and I’m feeling intimidated by my competition. What do they have that I don’t and how do I prove myself?” Signed ~ Let the Hunger Games Begin
Dear Let the Hunger Games Begin:
At this point, you’ve successfully navigated three years of law school, interview week, offers, and now you are here. There is a lot to say about articling, but I want to focus on what I view to be one of the make or break aspects of your upcoming year: competition.
Let me paint you a picture: it is your first day of articling. Heck, it might even be your first office job ever. The elevator doors open, and you step into your new firm’s lobby wearing a fresh suit and have a sparkle in your eyes. Your firm’s student coordinator comes out and greets you and walks you to your new office. This is when you meet some other students who you’ll be working alongside over the next ten months. You exchange pleasantries about how you look forward to working together. You shake their hands with a nervous smile on your face. You realize one of the students has the same last name as one of the partners you looked up on the firm website earlier.
Does he know someone? Does his dad work here? Is that how he got this job? Wait… what does that mean for hire backs, is he a shoe-in? What does that mean for me? Is he going to take my spot just because he knows someone? Well, that isn’t fair.
You proceed to your office and sit down in your new chair and put a quirky trinket or photograph on your desk (so people know you are fun). You get your email up and going and it feels like the work almost instantly starts to pour in. You walk over to the office on one of your new colleagues and say, “I already have three assignments!” They turn to you and say “well, I already have five… and one is from the managing partner”.
Why didn’t I get an email from the managing partner? What is so special about this student. I need to go introduce myself to the managing partner, so they know I am here too. Once they know me and see I am a hard worker they will send me work over that student anyway.
The seasoned articling student (who started one month before you) looks back at you with bags under her eyes and cracks a smile, giggling to herself because she hasn’t had a task list so small since her first day. She says she was just offered to attend a trial with a very senior partner. She says the partner personally selected her to attend because they worked well together.
That’s odd. Am I going to get invited to a trial? Why was she invited but I wasn’t? How am I going to get hired back if I don’t have trial experience and she does? If I want a shot at this, I will just have to out-work her.
Twenty minutes into your first day and the reality has already started to set in. It dawns on you that you and your new colleagues are all competing for the same job at the end of a 10-month long job interview. Let me tell you – hire back stress is real and I vividly remember feeling it on day one. The uncertainty of articling and job prospects is a prime breeding ground for unhealthy competition and toxic work relationships. It can bring out the worst in us.
It is safe to say the kinds of people attracted to this profession are often high achievers with a competitive streak. We want to do our best and be our best. The problem is, articling can sometimes foster the kind of environment where we do that at the expense of other people. Below are some of my tips on how to handle the competitive nature of your upcoming year:
1. Keep Perspective.
Do not go into your articling year with blinders on. I know ten months feels like an eternity, but articling is so much more than a job at the end of the tunnel. Articling can be a great practice run before you step into the real world of being a lawyer. Use this year to your advantage and work with and learn from as many lawyers as you can. The skills you pick up during articling (practice management, networking, standards of conduct, and organizational skills) will become your greatest tools as a lawyer. The goal is a long, successful, and healthy career as a lawyer, whether at the firm where you article or elsewhere. Ten months feels like forever – but it will be over in the blink of an eye.
2. Your Reputation is Everything.
No matter where you live, where you article, and what area of law you practice in – the Bar is small. People talk. You are going to meet a lot of people once you become a lawyer, from other counsel to court clerks, clients, and support staff. You can count on meeting many of these people again through the course of your career, so be professional and courteous with everyone you deal with each and every day. Here’s the thing – some people you click with and some you… don’t care for. That’s true for articling too. Your reputation is something you will build over your entire career, but it starts now. Instead of asserting yourself at your firm as a cutthroat student who will steamroll anyone in their way of a job, develop a reputation for being reliable, hard-working, and trustworthy. Remember, your articling counterpart today might be interviewing you for your dream job in ten years. You may even have files together one day.
3. Be Nice.
On the topic of steamrolling – be nice! I mean it. Always remember what goes around comes around. The worst thing you could do is be mouthy to a registry clerk who remembers you the next time you try to file something two minutes before the deadline. Always carry yourself with humility and be civil. Do not tear people down or speak ill of your colleagues, even if you think it might make you look like a better candidate for the coveted hire back position. I promise you, it won’t. Remember, you are in the trenches of this thing together and no one understands this process the way your articling counterparts do. Be nice. Be supportive. If you do it right, you may just survive articling with friends that will last a lifetime. Not only does making friends make the workday more enjoyable, it will make your career more enjoyable.
4. Let it go.
I must repeat. Let. It. Go. Each student will approach their year differently. Some will turn down work when you don’t think they should have. Some will leave the office earlier than you think they should have. Some will spend more time socializing and schmoozing than putting pen to paper. You might feel like someone isn’t “pulling their weight” and the workload is spilling onto you. Let it go. Spending your time and energy on the competition of hire backs and what someone else may or may not be doing in the office next to you is the wrong way to go about this. Do not waste your time on how someone else approaches their articling year. Your energy is better focused on learning, building relationships, and obtaining valuable experience.
Here’s the thing – you will land on your feet. I promise. Everyone eventually finds their own path in this marathon of a career. The goal is to cross the finish line with friends, rather than enemies, at your side.
About the Author
In case you don’t know her by now, Jaeda Lee is an associate at Harper Grey LLP practicing in insurance and health law and a frequent guest to the Dear LiL Blog. An avid volunteer, Jaeda gives much of her time to the ACTS Water Charity, an organization focused on providing clean, accessible water to those who need it most.