Picture this – fighting contractual demons, overcoming constitutional nightmares, clawing your way to the top of the hierarchical law-school pyramid, and conquering a pandemic.
Now picture this – throwing it all out the window. Welcome to navigating your articles. Unfortunately, in practise, there are no prescribed readings and textbooks that can prepare you for your articles. With that being said, we hope that this article provides a brief guide to navigating your way through the murky waters and unfamiliar territory that is your articles. Let's call this: what to expect when you do not know what to expect – a quick guide to establishing your own jurisdiction in corporate South Africa.
Technology and our virtual lives
Law, as we know, is a people-centred profession. As we found ourselves behind the bars of the hard lockdown, there was a resulting gasp from the legal community. When the help signal flashed, it was time for the tech-agile younger generation to shine. We began our articles of clerkship immediately after two years of online learning at university. This equipped us with key transferable skills relating to working online.
First, it is important to be familiar with online communication platforms such as Microsoft Teams, and understand how to schedule, join, and set up meetings. Students can familiarise themselves with these platforms by participating in societies and coordinating virtual events. It is key to be familiar with the 'ins and outs' of Microsoft Word, and focus on grammar, formatting, and attention to detail. Finally, the most important technological skill that a prospective candidate legal practitioner can practise prior to embarking on a legal career is organising their virtual life. This entails organising emails into folders and subfolders, organising instructions into various categories based on priority, and always taking the extra time to organise a new file into its relevant folder when saving it.
So, the biggest tip is: organise, organise, and organise some more. Two handy tools in this regard are: use a reminder application to keep up with your tasks, and add entries for all work-related duties into your calendar.
In our experience, we have learned (sometimes the hard way) that the quality of work produced is inextricably linked to how well the instruction – from either an associate or a partner – is understood. There will be times when you think you did an exceptional job at a specific task, only to come to the sobering realisation that it is not what the partner was looking for. It is like scoring a goal on the wrong side of the field. To mitigate this, ask questions. When receiving instructions, ask as many questions as it takes to understand the instruction. The pandemic has only highlighted how important this skill is. Many of us receive instructions via Microsoft Teams and, therefore, we need to ensure that we understand the instruction because sometimes it is not physically possible to knock on a door, (unless we are missing the Microsoft Teams update that enables door-knocking). In the era of working from home – perhaps the new norm? – do not be alarmed if you find yourself staring at your superiors' Microsoft Teams bubble, hoping that it changes from red (unavailable) to green (available), while praying that you are fast enough to catch them in time.
During your articles of clerkship, it is impossible to escape the wrath of administrative work. Instead of lying in a pool of your own misery, it is better to understand the importance of this task. Administrative tasks are important because you learn how a firm works from the ground up. Remember 'wax on, wax off' from Karate Kid? It is exactly that. Always remember that administrative work is as important for your development as understanding legal concepts. Ask yourself, how do you climb the mountain that is articles? You take one step at a time. Some steps will be easier than others, but you need to take them all to get to the top.
The reality is that as a candidate legal practitioner, you, unfortunately, do not know much. This is both expected and understood as you enter the legal world as a freshly hatched fledgling. However, use this opportunity to grow both your legal and personal databases. Absorb every moment and look at every opportunity (whether it is printing a file or drafting a document), as a chance to learn something. Remember, anyone can do the task, but ask yourself, what is going to make you stand out from everyone else that has done it before? Although this is a busy two years, it is only that – two years. Like anything, the experience is what you make it. As Roald Dahl once said, 'no matter what it is, go at it full speed, embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all, become passionate about it … lukewarm is no good'.
Sayed, Tangur and Ganey are Candidate Attorneys with Webber Wentzel.