Hello all and welcome to the inaugural Hall & Wilcox Graduate blog post! There are six of us in the Sydney cohort – Alex, Ashlee, Rebecca, Paul, Winnie and Mark.
Every Wednesday for the next six weeks we will publish a blog sharing our experiences and giving insights into life as a graduate at Hall & Wilcox.
We thought an apt first post would be a reflective one, exploring five key lessons we have learnt throughout our first few months of private practice. We hope sharing our experiences will be helpful for prospective graduates and other young lawyers.
1. Mistakes are not your enemy
We can almost hear the collective gasps of our fellow type-A law students – “what do you mean mistakes are okay?!” Now we are certainly not endorsing providing a careless, mistake-riddled document to a supervisor – that is a sure-fire way to get yourself into hot water! However, the simple reality of being a graduate is that our knowledge of legal practice is limited and mistakes are bound to happen.
Instead of stressing about the error, we have found it is important to focus on what we learnt from that mistake so that we know how to avoid it in the future. Supervisors are not expecting graduates to hand back a perfectly drafted document. What they do expect is for a graduate to give it their best effort, to find and challenge the gaps in their knowledge, to ask many, MANY questions and to own and learn from their mistakes when they make them.
2. Plan, plan… and then plan some more
While it doesn’t exactly sound like a revelation, we’ve come to realise how crucial good organisational skills are. Great client service necessarily demands effective time management and this goes hand in hand with your ability to organise yourself.
As graduates we often have work coming at us from many different sources. It can feel overwhelming when the tasks involve navigating unfamiliar territory and conflicting deadlines, so harnessing the organisational skills that got you through law school and putting them into action really does help. You may not always get a real sense of when someone needs something by, so if you’re not sure, just ask… don’t leave it to chance!
3. Self-care is non-negotiable
On our first day at the firm, a previous grad told us ‘private practice is a marathon, not a sprint – look after you’. Now being three months into our graduate program, we can definitely see the value of this advice.
As young lawyers, we often hold ourselves to unsustainably high standards and as a result, our wellbeing tends to fall to the wayside. Achieving a work-life balance and taking the time to practice self-care can feel somewhat unrealistic. But instead of thinking of these ideas as something separate to the traits that make up a good lawyer, it helps to shift the thinking around wellbeing to something that is an integrated part of being a great lawyer.
Doing one thing each day that’s just for you – whether that be going to the gym, eating lunch with colleagues away from your desk, or taking a 10-minute walk can be a good way of hitting the reset button. Ultimately, unless you look after yourself, you won’t be able to perform to the best of your ability.
4. Knowing the law is only 50% of the job
Law school prepares us well to prove the elements of a breach of contract or advise a client on what Chapter 2D of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) tells us about director’s duties. What law school cannot do so well is train us to consider the practical, commercial implications of this advice.
Putting yourself in the client’s shoes is key to delivering good advice. Clients do not want a ten page summary of every recent contract case; they want a succinct and commercially savvy recommendation about whether their circumstances allow them to terminate. No more 3000-word essays! Concise, client-tailored advice is the way to go!
5. A tree without roots doesn’t stand for very long
Being a graduate does not come without its challenges. As a year of learning, there are inevitably going to be highs, lows and everything in between. In our first few weeks, it quickly became apparent that having a strong support network to ride out the highs and lows with you is vital to stability and success.
A strong support network should not just include friends and family, but also fellow graduates and work colleagues. Fellow graduates are experiencing the same thing as you and it is important that we can always lean on each other for support. We are really fortunate at Hall & Wilcox where a three-tiered formal support system comprising of a buddy, mentor and supervising partner ensures that we are supported while settling into life as a private practice graduate.