Sometimes It’s Not So Obvious

Suggested practice tips for junior lawyers

Sometimes It’s Not So Obvious

Before diving into the topic of practice management tips, it is useful to first establish what practice management is. As a junior, I’m never far away from my Professional Legal Training Course (“PLTC”) binders, and I consulted the handy practice management binder before writing this article.

Practice management is broad, and has many different aspects, including opening a law practice; law office systems and procedures; client file management and timekeeping; client relations; and trust accounting.

Before starting this article, I consulted with some of the lawyers at my firm, and some of my friends who have been practising for a while for their tips. And that is my first tip: use your network. Ask for advice from the other associates in your firm, and other lawyers senior to you. What worked for them? What didn’t work? Juniors can’t be expected to know everything, and it is reasonable (and good) to ask others for help and advice. Ultimately, you will need to filter through tips and suggestions to find what works for you but having a starting point with some direction is helpful — and potentially time and resource saving.

On the topic of resources, knowing what resources are available to you and how to use those resources is invaluable. It seems like there is never enough time and tasks often take longer than you think. Some tasks that we’re told are “simple” and “shouldn’t take long” do take longer because we haven’t done it before. Becoming efficient with the resources you have is essential. Get comfortable with your firm’s document management system and ask for assistance from the associate group. An issue or topic of research may be new to you, but others at your firm may have looked at the issue before and can steer you in the right direction. Canvassing your firm’s resources thoroughly at the beginning of a task can prevent you from reinventing the wheel. You may also be the first one at your firm looking into the issue — on the job learning is career-long in law!

Aspects of practice management focus on things that juniors may not deal with directly, such as opening and closing files, dealing with physical mail, accounting systems, and office security. While juniors may not be involved with these aspects of practice directly, all lawyers — which include juniors — are responsible for supervising the work of non-lawyers in the firm pursuant to section 6.1-1 of the Code of Professional Conduct (“CPC”). That brings me to my next tip: be good to the non-lawyers in the firm. Take time to cultivate positive relationships with the assistants, paralegals, and the other non-lawyers you work with. In addition to being a wealth of knowledge themselves, non-lawyers form an integral part of your practice. You will need to rely on them — sometimes on very short notice — to meet the needs of your clients. The better you are able to communicate with the non-lawyers on your team, and the stronger those relationships are, the better you can serve your clients and avoid misunderstandings. It’s also a good time to get familiar with the CPC and the Law Society Rules (the “Rules”). Not only do the Rules and CPC spell out our obligations as lawyers, but they also contain practical practice management steps, such as verifying an individual’s identity remotely during a pandemic. Maybe keep those PLTC binders close by for easy reference.

Lastly, remember to have patience with yourself, there is a steep learning curve. We’re learning as we go and that learning is career-long. No one expects us to know everything the day we’re called to the Bar!