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Advice: With the benefit of hindsight

Advice: With the benefit of hindsight

By Annmarie Geros

Health Practice Management Wellbeing 


Senior practitioners share the advice they would give their younger selves.

There are many misconceptions about what the practice of law entails. I have often thought, if I could turn back the clock, what advice would I give myself as a newly admitted lawyer – advice not necessarily taught in a university law degree or through practical legal training. Rather, advice that is critical to managing the everyday pressures of practice and building the soft skills often overlooked in the day to day minutiae of practising law. Five key areas emerged from interviews with senior practitioners and barristers asking what advice they would give to junior solicitors.

Put your health first

The first few years of practice are a steep learning curve. We strive to impress and over-achieve, while we focus on climbing the ladder. But at what cost? Happy Lawyer Happy Life founder and lawyer Clarissa Rayward says law is an inherently stressful job. “We must remind ourselves that this career comes with a certain intellectual rigour and human stress”. Ms Rayward’s approach is one of self-care. She advises setting rituals and routines that allow us to bring our best self to the office, including a positive mindset for success. 

Request and implement feedback 

Feedback was a constant theme, in particular the importance of not being afraid to ask for feedback no matter how intimidating you think your boss is. Ms Rayward says junior lawyers often look at feedback as personal criticism. Instead, she views it as an opportunity to sharpen professional skills. Similarly, barrister Cath Devine says, "when you stuff up, admit it and fix it”. Further, Ms Devine says admitting mistakes shows character and integrity. The key for junior lawyers is to raise their hand and seek assistance when they need it. 

SVW Legal lawyer Simone Wimalaratne says we are “not meant to know everything, we are meant to find the answer,” and there is no stupid question. Asking for help is simply more efficient. 

Barrister Amanda Carruthers says from her experience as a supervisor it is more efficient if juniors explain their methodology and what they have already tried when asking for feedback or raising questions. It allows the supervisor to determine what has been done with the instructions and to assist in teaching the junior how to narrow their search and work efficiently. “It improves the process” and allows the supervisor and the junior to “improve their communication and research skill set”. Ms Carruthers says this type of dialogue provides an opportunity for juniors to “stretch themselves” and to have the difficult conversations, which in turn leads to growth.

Work productively and efficiently 

As a junior lawyer, there is an expectation that every email and task must be attended to before clocking off. This is an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation. As De Roberto Legal partner Gabrielle De Roberto says on the Ladies who Lawyer Facebook page, “it can wait until tomorrow”. In the wake of COVID-19 and working from home, it is critical that appropriate boundaries are set for the work day and junior lawyers must learn to draw a line between home and work and realise that working hours of overtime is not necessarily effective, efficient or productive. Ms De Roberto said in order to do what is best for clients we ought to be well rested. 

Pearson Emerson Family Lawyers partner Heidi Menkes says, “If you are sick, take a sick day”. Though junior lawyers may feel guilty for taking sick leave, they should rest in order to maintain consistency and productivity in their work. 

Similarly, Accenture lawyer Claire Allan says health should come first and that invariably “someone will step into your shoes and do your job”. 

Record keeping – file notes 

Taking detailed contemporaneous file notes not only reduces the risk of liability (for disputed matters and costs), it also forms a point of reference. Ms Carruthers outlines why she considers it important to keep “fastidious contemporaneous file notes” including:

  • it forms the clearest record of what happened at the time
  • it provides a recollection of what was discussed with your client and their instructions
  • it provides a reference for other practitioners who may have a different view of the file
  • it may provide an opportunity for you to go back to the client and seek further instructions. 

File notes also assist other practitioners to step in if you are unwell or away from the office so the file can run uninterrupted. 

Build a network and maintain it 

In my experience, the most powerful tool and advice I can share with other newly admitted and junior lawyers is to not only build a network but to maintain it. Contact colleagues, meet them for coffee and pick their brain – they won’t mind, in fact they will welcome it. 

Key points to remember are that health and wellbeing are paramount, approach senior colleagues for feedback, guidance and support in order to progress and don’t work yourself into the ground. ■

Annmarie Geros is co-chair of the YL Editorial Committee and dispute resolution and litigation lawyer at Aitken Partners.

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