At this time of year, many firms are welcoming articling students into their offices.
While it’s easy to view these students as a source of extra help, the primary purpose of articling is to provide a valuable apprenticeship to the student, not simply to lighten the lawyer’s load. Today’s law school curriculum has a strongly theoretical focus. Students spend a great deal of time learning to research the law and to “think like lawyers”, and limited time learning about how to operate a law practice.
That’s where articling comes in. As an articling principal, you are charged with teaching students about how legal services are delivered to clients. A good articling experience will see students exposed to various office systems (ticklers, filing systems, searches, docketing and billing, and others) and procedures.
It’s important to learn about these procedures, especially for students who will ultimately end up practicing in sole or small firms. But we suggest that learning about procedures is not sufficient: practicing lawyers should also take the time to explain the rationale behind the systems that support a law office. In other words, students should not only learn, for example, how to docket their time; but also WHY lawyers docket time. Take the time to ensure that your students understand that dockets will potentially serve as evidence in support of a claim for costs, or as evidence in support of a defence to a client’s assessment of the lawyer’s costs.
Similarly, don’t just tell the students that they need to flag certain information so that law firm staff can enter it into the tickler – explain why a tickler system is necessary to ensure the proper management of file deadlines. An important aspect of your students’ apprenticeship is learning how to be a good lawyer who understands malpractice risks and takes active steps to minimize these risks and to prevent claims.
Did you know that LAWPRO creates resources tailored specifically to new lawyers and law students? We hope you’ll encourage your articling students to visit our New Lawyers’ Resources page on practicepro.ca. Students may be especially interested in the Student Edition of LAWPRO Magazine.
This article is by Nora Rock, corporate writer at LAWPRO.