Article courtesy The Gavel, Issue 6 Volume 2 – December 2013
In-Service Training is a critical component of the programme at the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS). Regulations stipulate that each student will be required to serve a period of attachment for the purpose of practical training, during the vacation between the first and second year.
For many students, this period of In-Service Training is their first contact with the actual practice of law. At HWLS, In-Service Training precedes the Legal Aid Clinic (mandatory for all second year students), which is designed to provide students with practical training in client communication, critical analysis, case preparation and trial advocacy.
Some law firms or public offices offer a structured programme for In-Service Trainees, but many students find themselves “going with the flow”, with no advance warning of what to do or what to expect. Here are a few points to remember when you start your In-Service Training:
Attire: As a student attorney, your professionalism is central to your success. Putting thought into your attire is an easy way to project professionalism. If your law office observes a “business casual” dress code, consider that the emphasis is on the word “business.” If you are invited to observe or participate in a court attendance or client meeting, always wear a suit.
Take notes: Always bring a pen and paper to every meeting. It is shocking how many people fail to do this, and it never leaves a good impression.
Interact: As an In-Service Trainee, you will be evaluated (among other things) on your ability to act sociably with the attorneys and staff in your office. You will make a much stronger impression if you are not only diligent in your work but also personable and easy to get along with. You can demonstrate that you are a sociable person by making an effort on a daily basis to engage in friendly, comfortable dialogue with the attorneys and staff in your office.
Manage your workload: Be open and receptive to all types of matters. No job is beneath you, so no matter what the assignment, express enthusiasm at the prospect of working on it. Let each attorney know what other matters you may be working on for other attorneys in the office. You are always better served by communicating with the attorneys rather than to keep accepting assignments and producing substandard work, or not finishing it at all. The attorneys you are working with will greatly appreciate if you regularly update them with status of the assignments that they have given to you. Do not let them think that the work they have given you has fallen into an abyss.
Social events: Make an effort to participate in the social events at your firm or office. That having been said, NEVER get drunk at social events. This may sound obvious, but there is always a story about the intern who had a few too many, embarrassing himself/herself in front of the entire office.
Punctuality: Always observe the office hours of the firm or office to which you are assigned. If you are going to be late, or have to leave the office for any reason, always let someone know where you are. There is nothing worse than people having to look for you, and no one can tell a Partner or senior attorney where you are. Never be late for court matters.
Be open to learning: Even if you are an A student, do not expect that you know all the answers. If you are given an assignment and you have absolutely no idea what to do, conduct some preliminary research and make a list of questions before discussing with the attorney. The staff at law firms and law offices is an invaluable resource, and paralegals, secretaries and clerks may be able to assist you if you encounter difficulty with any task. When you attend court, take notes and make it a point to discuss the matter with the attorney. Remember you are there to learn, not just to observe.
Confidentiality: You will be working on real-life matters. It is not appropriate to discuss the files with your friends, family or colleagues. Never post on social networks about the files that you are working on, or the matters that you observe in court.
In-Service Training can be both an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Be yourself, but above all, always remember to conduct yourself in a manner that is befitting of the Law School and the Council of Legal Education.