The five phases of law firm fresherdom
Friday, September 16, 2016
Justinian in Barely Legal, Law firm, Legal training

Barely Legal in a legal workplace ... The pattern of behaviour that faces inductees ... Repetition and application ... Respect beckons 

I am not yet a qualified lawyer, but it's getting close. To become barely legal on the admitted side, I've begun my practical legal training in earnest, the GDLP. 

The GDLP is the program that cracks the legal chrysalis of law school. It allows students to spread their wings to become legal moths. Practical Legal Training (PLT) is a core component of the GDLP and therefore an essential step towards getting admitted. 

I commenced my PLT placement with a Legal Aid clinic about two months ago. This is my third position in a law firm and I can now speculate (with a degree of confidence) that most firms follow remarkably similar, albeit unspoken, rituals of induction and acceptance for new members of staff. 

In my experience, there are five distinct phases for a law firm fresher.

Phase 1: Super happy welcome and everyone is nice

This phase is the equivalent of the first lick of an ice-cream. It looks and tastes great, and you wonder how you managed to luck into something so positively delightful. Everyone is nice, welcoming, and positive. There is no sense of pending over-worked delirium. 

Phase 2: Do people think you're a prick? 

This phase usually commences soon after phase one - instigated when a lawyer of low to medium importance in the firm makes a joke that is a bit dark and cynical. Everyone hears the joke and understands the context of it.

For example, the joke is at the expense of a needlessly difficult client. 

The incorrect response: You are a rock and dedicated to the boss. You will never joke about clients, regardless of how totally ridiculous they may be. Total rectitude is the only path forward. 

The correct response: A response equally as dry and droll as your colleague. Your response makes other members of staff chuckle, and they're not just being polite. This response is only possible if you've read and understand the client's file. The response affirms your terrific sense of humour, that you are capable of interacting on a human level, and that you are hard-working enough to have read the client's file to understand the joke. 

Phase 3: Do people think I'm capable? 

This phase begins when you are asked by someone who is not your supervisor to help with very basic matters. This is quite straightforward. If you are asked to help someone, surely it means they trust you?

In my case I was asked to research a quite complex migration law problem. The requestor was happy with the outcome, which means I have been asked to keep repeating the task ad nauseam. This is the pathway to a glowing reputation. 

Phase 4: Repeat performance

By now others are asking for your help. This phase is tricky. You have to take as many tasks as you can, but you can't take so many that your standard of work drops. 

Take as many tasks as possible and be sure to ask lots of questions. This shows both competence and a modicum of humility. Fortunately for me, I have no shame and ask plenty of questions. The more air in your lungs, the more questions you should ask. This also helps to slow the pace of work. 

Phase 5: Completion, acceptance

This happens when you've shown you can conduct yourself as a legal professional, with dedication and precision. Suddenly, before you know it, you're on the conveyer-belt to success, riches, and respect. 

The difficult part is working out how to get off. 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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