Lessons from working in a law firm
Snagging a law job is a sweet deal: being paid to do legal duties is interesting, and you get to see how the law and law firms function ‘in real life’, instead of reading about it in textbooks or hearing it in lectures. Here are a few things I’ve learnt from working in a law firm…
1. Take your time with research
If there is one thing that you should practice, it will be the patience and diligence when completing the research task given to you, and only send it to the lawyer requesting it when you’ve comprehensively answered it. This is a sure way to earn the respect of the lawyer requesting the work.
In the past, I was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency to deliver the answer. But when it comes to research tasks in a law firm, you do not have to rush your work like it’s an exam. Do your work carefully, precisely, and make sure that you present the information neatly and in your own words as copying and pasting does not show you’ve understood the material. Also, don’t forget to include citations.
2. Sometimes there’s a dead end
There is a lawyer at my work who gives me some pretty challenging tasks. On the occasion, the information I need to source may sound straightforward, but upon close inspection you realise there is simply no magical loophole.
After hours of staring at legislation and policy, it is clear that the answer is no. I feel like I have failed to deliver, but in truth the lawyer accepted what I told him and agrees that the situation is impossible. But hey, why not make 100% sure?
3. People skills
Every firm has a particular culture and dynamic, and the different personalities within a firm will want their work done differently. With time and observation, and sometimes trial and nail-biting error, I’ve come to learn how to handle the personalities of those I work for.
One thing is certain, while your superiors want you to succeed and will try and help you, you can’t expect to have your hand held. A thick skin, a positive attitude and knowing your limits will set you well with others.
4. Communication, communication, communication
From meetings, to phone calls with clients, and liaising with ‘the other side’, the majority of the work the lawyers at my firm undertake depends on how they communicate. I’ve witnessed some rather ridiculous emails from ‘the other side’, and I think the best tip I can suggest is to make sure non-verbal communications always come across as polite…
5. Forms and procedures
Learning how to file a court document at the Supreme Court Registry? Check. Learning what an Offer of Compromise and Affidavit looks like? Check.
One of the most useful things I have learnt as a legal assistant is where and how to lodge documents, as well as what these documents look like and how they needed to be structured.
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