Your time as a candidate attorney is set to be the toughest and yet, probably the most memorable and rewarding of your career to come. You've surely been warned of the love-hate relationship you may develop with the photocopy machine and the gruelling hours of magistrates court appearances, however what few mention is the mentorship and the foundation that you receive from excellent, experienced legal minds in the fraternity.
Your articles are a time to learn, develop and experience the law hands on. It is extremely important to find a firm that offers you the opportunity to engage meaningfully with various aspects of the law. From court appearances to meetings with counsel and consultations with clients, you want to get exposure to it all. One of the most fundamental characteristics that any candidate attorney should have is a desire to learn, this will help you on those late nights attending to urgent matters or studying for admission exams. There are many people in the profession willing to teach those who are willing to learn.
This profession allows you to encounter a new problem to solve every day, with a diverse range of practice areas. You will never experience the mundane, from complex tax structures to assisting in a family matter to closing a commercial contract or even dealing in property transfers, there is something for everyone.
Taking initiative and becoming a problem solver will serve you well in the years to come should you choose to become an attorney, but to help you along the way, here are a few tips which may assist:
- Ask questions. Rather ask a question to receive clarity on a task instead of doing a task incorrectly due to a misunderstanding. It is especially important to ask for assistance or clarity at the time the instruction is given to you and not right before the deadline, as this may have an effect on the deadline your seniors may be trying to make for clients.
- Always carry a notepad. You may be given an instruction on your way out of the office, or in a formally arranged meeting, having a notepad will help to ensure that you obtain and record the correct instruction.
- Learning to time manage is crucial. As a budding attorney, you will soon learn that attorneys sell their time and part and parcel to this is adequate time management. Allocating a certain amount of time to tasks may assist as well as making a to-do list each day to check off the tasks needing to be completed.
- Proof read the document or email again. It is very easy to omit an attachment or miss a spelling error which could be easily fixed by reading over the document or email again.
- Keep a spare set of shoes in the car along with a suit jacket, permanent marker and a black pen – trust me.
- During my articles, the phrase "management of expectations" was drilled into me. This boils down to communicating information to prevent gaps between an expectation and a reality. This means informing your seniors when you need more time to complete tasks, or that you do not have capacity to take on further tasks. The same prevails when dealing with clients and adequately informing them of when deadlines and deliverables will be due and in the event that there is a delay, updating the client to advise them of this.
Pursuing a career in law is going to be a roller coaster. Having a firm which supports you on this journey, that assists you to learn and offers you the platform to gain this exposure is key to a successful career. An open door policy and a firm of legal professionals who are willing to invest the time to teach, motivate, encourage and guide you during your articles is priceless.
In a legal career you will always be challenged, mentally, emotionally and intellectually. It is not for the weak or the faint of heart, but one thing that is certain is the hard work you put in at the start of your career will help you in the future.