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How to Succeed in the Business of Law

Iwan Davies (2L)

 

The Law and Business Association recently held a successful panel discussion entitled, “How to Succeed in the Business of Law.” The panel featured partners from three different Edmonton firms: Simon Foxcroft attended from Bennett Jones, Geoff Hope from Field Law, and Kelsey Becker-Brookers from Reynolds Mirth Richards & Farmer. Over the course of two hours, the speakers discussed a variety of topics, all of which were relevant to articling students and junior lawyers.

First, the panelists discussed the concept of billable hours, and the difficulty junior lawyers often have with tracking their time in 6 minute intervals. While there have been technological changes to ease this mundane task (such as computer task trackers), all three partners indicated they still prefer to record their time by hand. The speakers further commented on the fact that many junior lawyers struggle with allocating the appropriate amount of time worked per task. The general advice was refreshingly straightforward; juniors should just record the exact amount of time it took them to complete the task. Even if it took 14 hours to complete a memo, which the partner indicated should only take four hours, still record all the hours. At the end of the day, the legal problem may have been vaster than the assigning partner originally contemplated. Further, the billing partner can also trim down the hours before sending the bill to the client.

Second, the panel agreed that juniors should be focused on marketing themselves within the firm – to partners and senior associates – as opposed to solely trying to procure new firm clients. While new clients would certainly be appreciated, the chances of pulling in a multi-million dollar account is unlikely and, at the end of the day, junior associates and articling students are being evaluated by the firm partners. As one partner emphasized, law is a “people” profession, and it can be damaging for articling students to try and “fly under the radar” in the firm and go unnoticed.

One recommendation to advance within the firm, and to begin working with clients, was for the junior lawyer to focus on establishing a level of trust with a partner. This can be done by completing high quality, conscientious work, and expressing interest in a particular file. Once that level of trust is achieved, the partner will feel more comfortable bringing the junior to client meetings and placing them directly in contact with the client. Additionally, the speakers encouraged junior lawyers to get to know their client’s second-in-command, as they may one day be the main point of contact for the file.

Finally, all the speakers agreed that junior lawyers should always ensure that they are providing concrete, actionable legal advice to their clients. Many juniors make the mistake of simply outlining the risks and being wishy-washy in their memo conclusions. In most cases, the client is aware of the risks and they want to know what to do despite these risks. The best lawyers help a client navigate their legal troubles in a decisive manner.