Benefits of working with lawyers before becoming one | Amanda Johl
Friday, October 23, 2020 @ 9:52 AM | By Amanda Johl
After just a little over a month of being in law school myself, I’ve begun to really appreciate my own experience working in law firms before starting school. Below I share some of the benefits I’ve realized from having legal experience working as a legal assistant prior to law school and why prospective law students may want to consider this path as well.
Experience: As most considering law school don’t have too much insight into a lawyer’s day-to-day affairs, they often refer to and become deceived by dramatized television series and films. Common complaints of first year associates include realizing that the field of law is significantly different from what they expected. This may be because many base their views of being a lawyer on popular legal dramas such as Suits.
Working as a legal assistant or paralegal exposes you to the realities of law and the workload of various lawyers in different positions and practice areas. As a legal assistant or paralegal, you begin to develop a better understanding of what the practice of law truly entails before deciding to invest in law school. Law school is a significant investment and work experience in the field to can help ensure that this is the right choice for you.
This work experience in the legal field is integral for those who are on the fence about going to law school. From working in a law firm (or multiple firms) you may also begin to develop a passion for a certain practice area. This experience can help you decide what area of law you might want to specialize in later on in your career, and it also may help turn you away from certain practice areas that no longer seem suitable for you.
Networking: As I’m sure every law student has heard, several times, networking is absolutely vital to success in your career as a lawyer. It is never too early to start building a network of professional contacts. How convenient would it be to be surrounded by potential connections, working among colleagues who were once in the same position you are in now?
By working alongside lawyers and others in the legal field, you are able to build relationships with individuals who may be able to help advance your career. Your old firm may even decide to hire you back as a 1L summer student and/or articling student if you leave a good enough impression. Even if you don’t land a job at the same firm, the experience will help you with future jobs in the field.
Networking, to me, is all about building as many relationships and connections with individuals that could potentially help advance your career as possible. Working as a legal assistant or paralegal also places you in the perfect position, providing ample opportunity to ask questions and learn from watching lawyers in action every day. In addition to gaining career advice and future career opportunities, the lawyer(s) you assist may also be willing to write you a strong recommendation letter to support your law school applications.
Skills: Although paralegals, legal assistants and legal administrative assistants are often largely occupied with administrative tasks, there is a wide array of skills to be learned and developed from these jobs that are essential to becoming a successful lawyer.
Communication skills, for starters, are strengthened as you are often responsible for daily correspondence with clients, co-workers and the lawyer(s) you assist. Writing and reading skills are improved as well, especially so if you are fortunate enough to have a patient lawyer willing to proof all your work.
Lawyers must pay great attention to small details. This eye for detail is developed when you are being tasked with the drafting of multiple contracts, letters and other correspondence on a daily basis, while under the supervision of a lawyer.
As a lawyer, you’ll need to develop a fluent and articulate writing style. This can begin well before law school. One of the first things I was told early on in my legal career was to learn to slow down when typing or working so that I could learn to focus better on the task at hand and avoid minor errors — typos and grammatical errors greatly undermine your work.
In the field of law, accuracy and precision are key. Even the smallest of mistakes, or anything overlooked, can result in dire consequences. Through my experience in law firms, I learned to become more detail oriented.
Lastly, any experience in a law firm will reveal the fast-paced, demanding nature of the legal field and work environment in general. Greater exposure to the field earlier on can help you learn to thrive in these challenging work environments as you are constantly working under pressure and prioritizing competing deadlines, all while remaining calm and focused on each task.
It is important to note that a multitude of career paths exist for individuals with a law degree, and that not everyone desires to work in a law firm or as a practising lawyer upon graduation. Working a legal job before law school can help prepare you for the realities of a career as a lawyer.
That being said, although there are many benefits of gaining some firsthand experience in law firms before attending law school, gaining work experience in an area completely unrelated to law will not place you at any disadvantage. There are important skills to be learned from any work or volunteer experience that can help you navigate a future in law.
At the end of the day, you have to do what you think will help yourself best prepare for law school, whether that’s working in a law firm, a completely unrelated industry or simply taking some time off to relax and travel the world.
Amanda Johl is a first-year law student at Ryerson University, faculty of law who has over three years of legal experience in the Greater Vancouver Area. Prior to law school, Johl completed a bachelor degree in criminology and sociology (joint major) from Simon Fraser University.
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