When I began my articles of clerkship in January 2020, to say I was on an emotional roller-coaster does not quite capture the wide spectrum of anxiety, excitement, confusion, and plain old fear that I experienced. I was wide-eyed, fresh out of University where I had just completed a highly demanding degree and I had countless expectations of what my life and career should look like, some unrealistic and others that would demand that I bring all of my potential to the table in order to achieve. I remember thinking at some point and I sometimes still do, “well somebody should have told me this” and that is the purpose this article seeks to achieve, I will attempt to shine a light on things that can easily be taken for granted and therefore omitted that I believe are important for aspiring graduates and legal practitioners to be cognisant of as they begin their journey in what can sometimes be a cutthroat profession.
Hard work and determination
It probably goes without saying that one needs to be willing to put in the hours. There is no skipping the file making, paginating, photocopying of one too many documents, runs to the court that have you feeling bewildered when it turns out that one of your files seemingly grew legs and ‘walked away’ stage, but you will be pleased to know that it does not last forever, or at least for some people it doesn’t.
It is not as glamorous as some of us were led to believe by our favorite characters in the series we used to spend hours indulging in when we were actually meant to be studying. You do not spend your days walking around with your best friend who is a lawyer but did not go to law school, winning cases at every turn. The reality is in the legal profession, nothing gets handed to you, you have to earn your stripes and you do so by standing out and the only way to do that is by applying yourself in everything you do and ensuring that when performing every task you are given, no matter how miniscule it may appear to you, you do your absolute best.
You will not spend all your time on administrative tasks and sometimes you will be asked to assist or participate in groundbreaking cases involving multi-jurisdictional enforcement or even multi million Rands leading you to feel like the big-shot lawyer you are about to be. No one would entrust you with such a mammoth instruction however, if you do not carry out the smaller tasks to the best of your ability.
Set yourself apart
What makes you different to the next candidate attorney? Why are you the one to look out for? These may be questions asked in an interview when you are applying to be a candidate attorney and you may ace said interview with your charismatic personality and charming smile but remember that the two year articles of clerkship opportunity is an interview on its own. When you interact with every attorney, director, legal secretary, receptionist and filing clerk, you leave an impression whether professional or otherwise. Being innovative, problem solving and able to take initiative will surely leave a positive impression on your seniors and being kind and polite will enable you to receive assistance from even unlikely sources.
As a first or sometimes even second year candidate attorney you are unlikely to know right away which direction in the law you would like to pursue further but it is important to find your niche. After several months at the law firm, you should be drawn to an area of law which excites you and speaks to your strengths, and which you believe has good potential as a long-term career choice. Taking time to specialise in a limited number of legal fields could greatly increase your marketability to law firms or corporations requiring in-house attorneys and bring you one step closer to being indispensable to your current employer.
Day to day essentials
Although the abovementioned will assist you throughout your journey, there are a few basics you need to keep in mind as you go from one day to the next and these include:
- Keep sticky notes handy to scribble on when you are being asked to assist with something in order to ensure that you know exactly what you need to do.
- Have a list of all outstanding tasks and tick them off as you complete them, time management skills are critical and if you leave things to the last minute you will regret it.
- Do not forget to drink water.
- Read articles and books related to the area of law you are in to help enhance your knowledge of the subject matter to enable you to contribute effectively.
- Always keep a spare pair of shoes, in case…
- Ask questions if you do not understand instead of suffering in silence. Also understand that the timing of asking said questions is key. It is best to do it as you are given instructions or as soon as you realise there is something you do not understand. Do not wait until something is due before informing your seniors that there is something you do not get as this will have a ripple effect on turnaround time and delivery of work to a client.
- When having an online meeting do not forget to unmute yourself before shooting off that brilliant suggestion, and make sure you are on mute before going on a rant.
My journey as a candidate attorney still has low mileage but it is surprising what one can learn in the right environment, surrounded by people who are always willing to teach and impart their knowledge and experience. Every day of this opportunity comes with its own challenges and will continue to bring about more lessons but it is vital to take everything a day at a time and to just enjoy the experience because there will never be another like it.
About the author
This article was written by Disebo Leokaoke. Disebo holds an LLB from the University of Johannesburg and is a first year candidate attorney at Lawtons Africa. She is currently doing a rotation in the antitrust and economic regulation department.