Focus On

How articling students can help your business

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 @ 1:20 PM | By Simon Ennis

Simon Ennis %>
Simon Ennis
Fall is now upon us. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, pumpkin spice lattes are beginning to appear, people are breaking out the boots and the leaves are beginning to change. Amidst it all, the articling recruit also looms over many law students’ heads as the anxiety builds over whether or not they’ll be able to secure a coveted (and necessary) articling position.

A little over a month ago, I excitedly logged into the viLaw portal to see which firms were accepting applications. I hoped to see a plethora of choice — job opportunities as far as the eye could see! I was disappointed, like hundreds of other students, to find that a grand total of 11 firms in Vancouver had posted a formal opening. Toronto’s prospects weren’t much better.

COVID-19 appears to have affected the discussions among partners and directors about whether or not the firm will be able to take on a student. Clearly, an expense as significant as an articling student cannot be borne by the firm — how will the bills get paid?

There is no argument that an articling student can be a significant expense to a firm. An articled student isn’t particularly productive from a billable hour point of view. We “use up” the valuable time of partners, associates and the like with our questions, revisions and other learning activities. On top of that, it takes us forever to find seemingly simple answers. So what value does an articled student bring, anyway?

As I’ve worked my way through law school, I’ve been appalled at the apparent total lack of innovation in the legal industry. I use “innovation” in a loose sense. Just a few weeks ago, one of my classmates told me that during the summer, she had to show a partner at the firm she was working at in Vancouver how to use “Control + F.” I couldn’t believe it — how is it possible that a seasoned lawyer doesn’t know what “Control + F” is? It’s a tool that has saved me countless hours and frustration when reviewing documents and case law. If you’re not using it in your practice every day, you should be.

Something like this shouldn’t be considered “innovation.” It’s not a groundbreaking improvement, but if even a small portion of the legal profession is unaware of it, that’s troubling. This is a small example of what an articled student can bring to your firm. Many of us have worked in other industries. We’ve served coffees at Starbucks, we’ve been bank tellers and we’ve helped people solve problems outside of the law. These kinds of skills are important.

One of the biggest sources of complaints to law societies in Canada has its roots in poor customer service. They are the types of complaints that could probably have been solved with a simple and timely follow-up e-mail to a client about the status of their file. Something like this can be easily automated and costs nothing to do. When things like this are overlooked, it has a negative impact on the reputation of the profession and the expectations that people will have of their lawyers.

In any other service industry, simple things like follow-ups, check-ins and keeping promises are revenue generators and produce loyal frequent customers. They’re second nature to those of us who have worked in customer service, and it frustrates your clients when they’re overlooked.

In the legal industry, simple things like follow-ups, check-ins, and keeping promises are neglected, forgotten about and result in poor client interactions and complaints to the law society.

In the era of COVID-19, and the “new normal,” it’s of utmost importance to introduce client relationship tactics into your practice. If the practice of law becomes less and less personal, it’s crucial that clients feel like they’re being taken care of. Articled students can help. We bring a myriad of relevant and necessary “people skills” to the client relationship and can teach you how to use them in your practice.

We may not be able to bill lots of hours right from the start, and will probably ask silly questions and require you to make revisions to our writing. But we also bring value in the form of those soft skills that can be adapted to any industry and any workplace. They will reduce complaints from clients, improve your processes and might even make it easier to collect those invoices! Give us a chance. If an applicant comes across your desk who has worked to solve problems in other industries, hire them. Your clients will thank you.

If you’re reading this, and still wondering what Control + F does, go ask an articled student. I promise they’ll be able to help you out.

Simon Ennis is finishing up his third year at Thompson Rivers University and looks forward to starting articles next year. He's worked in banking and human resources and is a serving member in the Canadian Armed Forces. He's the co-host of the A Bit of Everything Podcast.

Photo credit / Ridofranz ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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