Congratulations! You've graduated law school, passed the barrister and solicitor exams (hopefully), and are now working as an articling student or lawyer. The world's your oyster, or at least you think it is. Law school is great at getting you ready for the rigours of legal research and writing memoranda, but there are scary realities awaiting you in the practice of law. Whether you are hanging your own shingle, working in a small practice, or heading into a career with big law, here are 3 things your professors forgot to teach you in law school.
I know this seems rather obvious; however, it shocks me how many students lack a fundamental understanding of professionalism. From their composure of e-mails, to lack of respect and decorum in their replies, it is imperative to your success that you act like a lawyer at all times. There is nothing worse than a lackadaisical reply to a potential employer or opposing counsel. Keep in mind, these e-mails may need to appear before a judge at some point. Professionalism also extends beyond your writing; it is also your appearance. While there are many stereotypes floating out there about lawyers, keep in mind that people are often parting with their hard earned money for your services. It is very difficult for your clients to take you seriously if you are wearing casual attire, such as jorts or flip flops in your client meetings.
2. Communication is key
This is a critical component of the successful practise of law. Communication lies at the heart of everything we do, and for many lawyers it will make or break them. Never forget, we have a duty to report to our clients, as well as a duty of candour. You should be reporting back to your clients at all times, and seeking their instructions before moving forward on their files. You should also be completely candid with them in all regards. If their case has a poor chance of success, tell them. Many disputes arise between lawyer and client, simply because the client feels that they do not understand what is going on with their file. While it is one of many for you, it is the entirety of their life at the moment. Stay on top of things, and keep your clients in the loop.
3. Attention to detail
I cannot tell you how many times I find minor errors in application letters, and materials drafted by students and young lawyers. Something as simple as starting your letter with “Dear Mrs. Ketsetzis” is a sure fire way to ensure your application goes into the rejection pile. It may seem pedantic and trivial; however, attention to detail is critical in a profession where minor errors, such as the misplacement of a comma, can quite literally cost a client millions of dollars. (Robertson, 2006) As a result, it is not uncommon for lawyers to narrow the field of prospective hires by looking for errors in the documents that potential applicants have unlimited time to draft. The profession operates on tight deadlines, and errors can be costly, so attention to minute details is imperative. Take time to review your work, and then when you are done reviewing it, do it again. You can thank me later.
There you have it, now that you know these 3 things, keep them in mind and they will help you go out and prosper. Good luck out there!
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By Konstantine-Peter Ketsetzis