The Practice of Law

Consistently Chaotic

Early in my articles, a senior partner named David asked me to draft a document and gave me a precedent to use. David approved my draft but asked me to show it to Bob, a more junior partner. Bob told me that I had left out an important clause and asked me if David had approved my drafting. When I assured him that David had thought the draft was fine, Bob rolled his eyes and I understood that Bob did not hold David in high regard.

With the benefit of experience, I now understand that David was not a shining light in the legal profession, and that his sub-par legal work was tolerated because he was quite the rainmaker.

I also learned that even two competent lawyers may approach a matter very differently. For example, one tries to cover every possible risk, while another takes a more practical approach. One may believe with all of their heart that improperly formatted documents and typographical errors should be capital offences. Another may be adept at focusing on substantive issues but have little patience for chasing perfection.

So where does this leave the newcomers who are trying to learn their craft? Mainly confused.

Partner A tells them that they should  have spent more time proof-reading their document. Partner B asks them why they spent so much time on the matter. 

Partner A says, “use the firm precedent.”  Parter B says, “the firm precedent is not good enough. Use mine.”

Partner A says, “you should have done more searches.”  Partner B says, “don’t waste your client’s money on some of those searches.”

Some Associates conclude that they have to practice one way when reporting to Partner A and a different way when reporting to Partner B. The more partners you work for, the more chaotic is your environment.

So, what does the firm say about this? Usually that different lawyers have different styles of practice, and the student or new lawyer should learn from these different styles. There is some truth to that, but there is more truth to the proposition that the firm should have published standards and procedures that all of the Partners agree to conform to, and newcomers should be trained to use them. But all of that would cost money and provoke disharmony, so many firms do not do this well.

My advice to students and new lawyers?

If you find yourself in a firm that takes this stuff seriously, don’t be in a rush to leave. If you realize that you are working somewhere where there are few consistently applied standards, try to get yourself trained and mentored by the best lawyer there. Learn what you can, and then think about how to develop your own standards and processes and apply them consistently.

Use legal technology to make it easy to produce work to consistent standards. Use your brain to avoid becoming a technician who knows how to enter data, press the correct buttons, and not much more.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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