The Ten Most Important Tips for Articling Students and New Lawyers

Having seen both ends of the spectrum from working with seasoned QCs to wide-eyed, gum-chewing articling students, over almost two decades, I’ve whittled down a long list of advice to ten of the most fundamental tips. Getting these underway early in your practice, where many senior lawyers, who lacked marketing support early in their career, didn’t know the best way to build a successful practice, will give you a significant boost.

Here’s my roadmap for summer students, articling students and the early years of your legal practice:

1. Building of a great reputation starts now. How you are perceived matters and will directly influence the amount of work you will attract. Always be prepared for internal and external meetings and don’t be late. Everything you write online matters, whether in your professional capacity or not. Be smart. Same goes for confidentiality for all client matters.

2. Learn how to build meaningful relationships. Listen with your whole body, not just your ears. Take note of what’s interesting to others and how you might be helpful. Avoid talking too much. Know that everyone can influence your future work. Be reliable, consistent, relevant and patient.

3. Gather a team. Let your enthusiasm show. Get partners, staff and your assistant on your team, and then, look outside the firm for external champions who can influence work, mentor and guide you. You don’t need to climb this mountain alone. Reciprocate whenever possible.

4. Ask questions. Ensure you understand your instructions whether from another lawyer or a client. Get clarification when necessary and don’t be afraid to express occasional curiosity.

5. Get invited. If the lawyer you’re working with is scheduling a lunch, discovery, settlement conference or client meeting, ask if you might attend to observe and learn. The fact that you weren’t already invited is merely an indication that this lawyer is focussed on the client and the file, not you. Go ahead and ask.

6. Start building your profile. Find ways to get published online. Even start commenting on legal or industry blogs as a starting point. Set up a Google Alert with your name. Get on LinkedIn, just set your privacy settings according to your comfort level.

7. Consider a niche. Start a broad practice, but always consider what you love to do most and how you could narrow part or all of your practice to working with a special interest group, a particular industry or type of client. Your marketing efforts will go further and you’ll enjoy your work more.

8. Start a pipeline of hope. Everyone should start a database of contacts. Early ones will include your school colleagues and personal contacts, and then it will grow. I call it a “pipeline of hope” as many contacts are potential clients and once they are in your pipeline, they will hopefully, one day, become a client in one area of law or another.

9. List your experience. Start an inventory list of your work experience for future reference. Your ability to attract new work will largely depend on your experience. Make it part of your routine and ask your assistant to help. As an articling student, your list might include interesting or noteworthy research, a problem you solved, a learning experience – whatever it is, describe it in a line or two in one on-going document. Use headings such as Client, Date, Matter type, Result, Comments, that sort of thing. Ensure to use keywords, so your document is searchable. You will thank yourself in ten years.

10. Review your biography regularly. You are on a fast track up, so make sure your website biography keeps pace. Make a calendar note to review it every six months when you should amend it to reflect your experience with different types of businesses or individuals and in different areas of law.

There are many more tips, but these are good starters and will help you create a solid foundation from which to build a successful and sustainable law practice. Good luck!


  1. Thanks for these great tips Susan! I am a few years into my legal career and I can see how each of these points has been and continues to be an important part of the development of my career. I would add to the list one more thing that I have found to be fundamental, and perhaps the first thing that young lawyers should to build a successful and sustainable legal practice. And that is, know yourself. Know what you want. Know what you love. Know what your goals are and what you would like your practice to look like in 5 or 10 years. Get clear on what is important to you and how you see your practice fitting in with the rest of your life. Because its far too easy to get whisked away on a career path that someone else has set out for you, rather than one of your own creation. While your interests, ideals, dreams, and goals can and will change as you are exposed to new and different things, and also by the mentor relationships that you foster, perhaps leading you to choose a different niche than you initially thought would interest you, I have learned that doing the above steps effectively requires a level of self awareness and a clear understanding of our own desires. The only way to create a career and a life that you love in this profession is to know what kind of career and life that you would love, then go out there and use all of these awesome tips to create it! Thanks again,

  2. Danielle, I’d say you’re well on your way (already) to building a successful practice for yourself. I’m cheering you on and wishing you all the best! Thanks for your comment.

  3. The Ten Most Important Tips for Articling Students and New Lawyers

    Should I be surprised that none of the tips mention anything about learning the law in the areas for which one is seeking business?

    I’d like to be, but that’s not my question.

    I think following story isn’t entirely apocryphal, though I don’t now recall who told me about it. Once upon a time, in the last millenium, soon after I was called to the bar, a lawyer from another country gave a speech, in Toronto, about how litigation was conducted in his country and the key issues all counsel should address to present their client’s case, properly. He listed a number of points in declining order of importance. As I heard it, the gist of his speech and these points was how to maximize the return for the lawyer and the client. When the speech was over, there was a question from the audience as to whether truth or justice mattered.