What you can learn from articling

  • June 01, 2013
  • Kayla DeMars-Krentz

Articling in a large law firm in Saskatchewan has exposed me to a full range of practice areas and allowed me to observe manners of proceedings in both Provincial Court and Queen’s Bench. I have honed my research and analytical skills, acquired a working knowledge of substantive law and legal procedures, and have undoubtedly developed a greater attention to detail. All of these skills are important, and will look good on my CV, but some of the other skills and knowledge I picked up during my articling year are just as important in their own way.
Here are some of the essential lessons I learned while completing my articling year that I hope will make me a better lawyer:

Don’t be a wallflower

The first day that I started articling, my principal said to me, “You’re not exactly a shrinking violet.” I didn’t know what that meant at first, so, like most other articling students presented with an unknown, I Googled it. I had thought it was an insult but it turned out to be a compliment. We can’t be wallflowers if we wish to succeed in this industry. Innovation and a willingness to embrace challenges is essential.

E.Q. > I.Q.

An articling student equipped with (in many instances) an undergraduate degree and a Juris Doctor degree is quantifiably intelligent. But brains aren’t enough – we also need to be emotionally intelligent. While we offer the best advice when we detach ourselves emotionally from our client’s case, it is also important, in the words of Atticus Finch, to walk a mile in our clients’ shoes. We need to subjectively consider our clients’ hopes, contemplate their perspective and critically evaluate interests, concerns, and needs in order to determine the best way to help them accomplish goals.

Check your ego at the door

Throughout the course of the day we deal with clients, other articling students, lawyers and various other staff. It is vital to identify and bring out the best in others, which means that we might need to quell our own egos in order to reach the optimal client outcome. I have learned that it is important to be diplomatic – the office is no place for unnecessary positional bargaining.

The burden of the billable hour

Articling in a profession based on the business model that ties productivity to financial gain is difficult and stressful. As young lawyers we must learn to effectively manage heavy workloads under constant pressure. This means being able to prioritize tasks and effectively manage time. I have learned the importance of saying “no;” delegating tasks to others as necessary; as well as asking questions for clarity in order to avoid lost time.

Project management

In order to successfully complete specific objectives it is important for us to maintain scope, while considering quality, time and budget restrictions. While articling I have been responsible for determining how long a project should take me as well as when I will complete the project. Lawyers need to be willing to estimate time as well as budget costs. The ubiquitous “it depends” is simply not enough. All lawyers must be capable of creating and managing a plan – it is SOP in corporate life.

Know thy client

Epictetus said that we must first learn the meaning of what we say, and then speak. In the client-focused legal industry, serving the client honestly, capably and responsibly is crucial for success. Effective communication is the fundamental tool of the legal profession. I have learned to convey information in a clear, concise and logical manner. Moreover, I have developed skills to advocate a position and have developed keen listening skills.

Always govern yourself accordingly

The pinnacle of the legal profession is to act with honesty, candour and integrity. The Bar course has certainly taught me the importance of being ethical. Indeed, I have learned that we must never take advantage of our “learned” position.

More than the sum of the parts

Lawyers do not work in a vacuum – we rely on support staff, secretaries, and must work with co-counsel, experts, and the courts. Teamwork is essential to individual and organizational success and collective collaboration is imperative for an organization to function in a multi-party work environment. Core competencies that I have developed include collaborating to reach a common goal; coordinating and sharing information and knowledge; and cultivating relationships with colleagues, staff, clients, experts and judges and court staff.

In order to practise law effectively and competitively, it is important to develop and possess not only the core competency skills, but also the less frequently considered practice skills.

Becoming a lawyer has been a journey. Law school was my comfort zone, my safe haven. Venturing out to complete my articles has not been without challenges. Nevertheless, becoming part of the “real world” has prompted me to consider what is truly crucial for success in this career: an attitude and willingness to think differently, act differently, while continually progressing forward with integrity and vigour.

Kayla DeMars-Krentz completed her articles at Kanuka Thuringer LLP in Regina. She was admitted to the Saskatchewan bar on June 12, 2013 and is currently working at Hunter Peterson Deagle LLP in Regina as an associate. She will also be completing her Master of Laws in Dispute Resolution at Osgoode Hall, York University through distance education while practising in the areas of family and criminal law.