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By Murray Gottheil | November 25, 2023
This is the sixth in a series about information that articling students and new associates should have before deciding to stay at a firm for the long-term.
Today it is about some of my favourite people in law firms – the law clerks (LCs, aka paralegals).
Why do I love LCs? Because at their best, they are smart, detail-oriented, and well-organized – like good lawyers, but without attitude or arrogance.
Here is what I suggest you find out about the LCs at your firm:
- Are they really LCs, with training and certifications, or are they legal assistants given the LC title instead of a raise and/or to keep them from jumping ship?;
- Does the firm continually invest in their education and training?;
- Are they encouraged to speak up and tell the lawyers when they are wrong, and to suggest more effective ways to complete projects?;
- Does the firm trust them to deal with clients and the other professionals without running everything through the lawyer?;
- Is it generally understood that LCs know lots of stuff that the lawyers never knew or have long forgotten? Do the lawyers listen when they talk?;
- Are LCs trained to research and solve their own problems before asking lawyers for help?;
- Do they get paid more than some of the junior lawyers? (They should!);
- Do they take complete responsibility for matters that have been delegated to them while still knowing when to turn to the lawyers for help?;
- Does the firm rely on them to make recommendations and assist with the implementation of new technology that affects their practice area?; and
- Are LCs tasked with training articling students and new associates in what LCs do?
Why does any of this matter to articling student and new associates? Because: (i) whether a firm invests in LCs can be an indication of the partners’ business savvy and their willingness to invest in people’s success, and also how hierarchical the organization is (which is a nifty thing for those at the bottom of the pyramid to know); and (ii) the difference between having capable and empowered LCs and not having them can, for the lawyer, be the difference between mental health and Crazy Town.
If the LCs and your firm’s attitude toward them do not impress you much, you need to ask why things are the way that they are, and what that suggests about how happy you will be there.
If they do impress you, the firm may still not be for you. There are more folks to meet at your firm before you can really tell whether your job will be a dream or a nightmare.
Next time: The Supervising Lawyer.
Murray is a happily retired lawyer who lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, writes, teaches and mentors. You can reach him at [email protected] or see what he is up to at lawanddisorderinc.com.