A Penny for Your Thoughts
Dear Learned Friends,
As a young lawyer, starting out just like each and every one of you, getting called to the Bar was an achievement on its own. Unfortunately, this milestone is one of the easiest battles out of many you will face. I can only hope I can impart to you what I have learnt thus far, as you journey into this brave new world.
1. There will be stress – a lot of it. Learn to manage time and expectations – when encountering conflicting deadlines, prioritise the ones that are most important and communicate your current workload to everyone on the file. Let them know that their work is important and that you intend on completing it. Set a realistic deadline for yourself. It feels daunting to not be able to live up to expectations – but communicating your workload and being honest is better than producing a subpar piece of work or radio silence. Never tell a senior or partner you are unable to complete a piece of work by the deadline and not offer an alternative.
2. Always display a willingness to learn. You will have silly questions – often, you will be told off for asking silly questions and asked to “think” (as I, myself, have encountered before). As such, ask silly questions smartly (there is a way!). Whenever you are faced with an issue you do not quite know how to resolve, present your question in the form of an option. Never go up to a senior or partner asking for answers – do the research, have an option in mind and be prepared to substantiate your reason when asked why.
3. Never think any less of yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, and until you make them you will not know where your weaknesses lie. Learn to go easy on yourself, but also learn from your mistakes and do not repeat them. For one, my wall is inundated with sticky notes, reminding me of what to watch out for and things to take note of – even for the simplest of things. Find your craft and hone it. Some people are good litigators, but better negotiators. If you are a square, do not try to fit yourself into a circle. Be discerning when receiving critique – accept constructive critique and reflect on what could have been done better.
4. Be protective of your time and your mental well-being. If work feels overwhelming, take a short break and come back to the piece of work again shortly after. If there is a mentor in your firm that you feel comfortable speaking to, reach out to him or her and let them know what you are going through. If not, keep yourself in check by ensuring that you take time off to do things you enjoy outside of work – whether it is watching the latest show on Netflix, gaming, or going out for a run. Find something you love doing to get your mind off work.
5. Take notes – all the time. Be alert as to how a partner crafts an e-mail requesting for more information from a client, or the manner in which he or she responds to an e-mail from the opposing counsel. Take note of how Lead Counsel addresses the Court during a trial or during cross-examination. These are skills that you cannot learn from a book and can only learn through experience. When preparing for a trial, take the initiative by ensuring you have on hand an electronic copy of the bundles and are prepared to set up the Court room. Cultivate good habits by watching the way Lead Counsel addresses the Court, or towards his or her learned friend. I do this all the time, so that I myself may (hopefully) one day be able to address the Court with the same kind of eloquence.
6. Be early all the time. As they say, being early is on time, being on time is late, being late is unacceptable. How you present yourself to the firm and importantly, to clients, reflects how much pride you have in your work. Always ensure that you arrive before your partner or senior arrives to a meeting. If necessary, set the meeting room up such that partners can immediately walk in and get started. Small actions such as these show your pro-activeness and willingness when being put on a file.
7. Know when to be kind and when to be firm. Appreciate the support staff and seniors who take the time to guide you. Importantly, be a human being! Have that glass of whisky, enjoy a Friday night off and appreciate the small wins that come as a young lawyer. The way to survive practice (that I have found, thus far) is by giving yourself a break and having a bunch of friends with whom you can laugh and joke with outside of the office. These people will help you as you progress into your career, and you should always lend a helping hand. You will never know when you may need it back.
8. Lastly, have fun! Enjoy the journey and roll with the punches. Like you, I can only hope it gets better from here (I have been promised, by many, that it does). Surprisingly, a year in, it feels like I am beginning to walk on my own two feet without stumbling every 10 steps. Our forefathers have given us big shoes to fill – but I have no doubt that we will get there. Here’s to the rest of our lives, my learned friends. Let us buckle up, sit tight, and enjoy the ride.