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Rajah Lehal

Shhh....Secrets of Organizational Success for Articling Students and Newly Called Lawyers

September 28, 2016

Links from this article: previous articles Google Keep Trello

Clausehound bloggers have mentioned in previous articles that the life of an articling student can be quite daunting, with a steep learning curve. It’s important to remember that your call to the bar is not the end of your learning path to becoming a successful lawyer, it’s only the beginning…

When beginning your articling or newly-called position at a new firm, here are some organizational tips to consider:

  1. Clean off your desks every day. Not only do we mean literally, but also figuratively. It’s 6:00 pm and you have to finish off a file. When you have an item close to the finish line - finish it. Waiting till the next day to finish off tasks leftover from the previous day creates an unnecessary backlog. Finishing off your work to avoid an overflow is known as “the one touch system” by some lawyers. Start, finish and deliver the work that you’re working on, so you don’t have to touch it again.
  2. Managing priorities. After a short time at a busy firm you’ll have multiple priorities. Trying to juggle them will make it hard to complete tasks. When you’re feeling overloaded, provide a list of your tasks and assignments to your supervisors. Your team will be helpful in ordering your priorities.
  3. Always make your work product presentation-ready. If it’s always ready to present or hand off, you and your team will be happy that they can make minor changes and forward onwards to a client. A need for multiple changes to the work of another student/lawyer makes for an unhappy senior lawyer.
  4. Don’t leave a mistake backlog. Fix any mistakes in your work that you’re aware of during the day so you don’t start your next day in a deficit. If you start the day fixing previous mistakes, the synchronization problem between you and your co-workers to review your mistakes may spiral into a several day backlog which means that new work cannot be assigned.
  5. Think about formatting when you prepare drafts of anything. Given that you are providing a high-paying service, your clients expect perfection. The less polished the final product looks, the less polished the quality of your work looks. Make sure your draft or final product is picture perfect.
  6. Make an organized list of all your questions and ask the members of your team periodically rather than in an ongoing dialogue. You are entering a new field, with little to no experience. You will be uncertain about the work required from you at times, and will have questions. However, it is important to remain sensitive of your colleagues’ time. Strategies to avoid disruption are:
  7. Using internal instant messaging tools to ask rather than asking verbally; and
  8. Using screenshots to capture information you want conveyed to avoid having your colleagues download, reopen or retrieve a document.

Your colleagues will be grateful if they can promptly review materials on their mobile phone.

  1. Always acknowledge receipt of emails. You would like to avoid the firm partner having to ask you something more than once. When your colleague sends you an email and received no response (most likely, because you are swamped with other work), they will likely not know the reason for your failure to communicate. This can leave them with a negative impression. A quick response is a necessity during work hours, but may not be so accessible during off-hours. However, emails should be scanned during off hours so that you’re ready for anything urgent and have a mental priority list before you go into work. Setting out your plan of attack is also a useful skill - that can be done through organization tools such as Google Keep or Trello. Try to write messages that result in a yes/no answer rather than open-ended question. Everyone’s busy - you will start to earn trust and respect if you lighten the load for your team.
  2. Push, don’t pull. Wherever possible, proactively report. As noted above, screenshots, updated lists in email form, maybe even screenshots of your list, will be preferred to dropping your items into a list and expecting your colleagues to retrieve. When entering a new environment, you will often note that others are working at the speed of lightening. To avoid being a disruption to workflow in a new environment, keep these helpful tips in mind.
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Written by Rajah. Rajah Lehal is Founder and CEO of Clausehound.com. Rajah is a legal technologist and technology lawyer who is, together with the Clausehound team, capturing and sharing lawyer expertise, building deal negotiation libraries, teaching negotiation in classrooms, and automating negotiation with software.