The Do’s and Don’ts as a PLT
By Hylus McEwan
Having recently completed my practical legal training (‘PLT’), I would like to share some thoughts for those about to embark on their legal career.
After finishing law school, PLT is the last stop before being admitted, and in the work experience component, you have your first chance to do work as a lawyer, guided by a senior lawyer who invests heavily in your future as a lawyer, often with the intention of providing long-term employment with the legal practice.
Work experience will likely be the first time you come into contact with clients, and the first time you prepare legal-practice documents for court, other solicitors, clients, and other parties. You will also be given access to the software that manages most of the legal practice’s records and documents. In my case this was FilePro.
Most of the activities you do may have a significant impact on the lives of clients and their friends, families, and acquaintances, and while some mistakes can have minor to no consequence, others can potentially ruin the lives of clients. Some mistakes can even cause the Legal Practice Board to suspend or cancel a solicitor’s practicing certificate, potentially ending their legal career.
While there are many ways to make mistakes, here are a few that might be worth bearing in mind:
Confirm with your supervising solicitor before making a telephone call or sending an email.
Double-check the work you have done. Be especially careful with documents going to court or clients.
Be respectful, courteous, and professional with clients. They are often in a vulnerable position and your words carry significant weight.
When in doubt, consult your supervisor.
No matter how stressful a situation may be, keep calm.
Remember to make a record of everything you do, be it telephone conversations, research, records, or other work.
Remember that your words are the tools of your trade: you should be thoughtful.
Keep in mind the amount of time you spend on a task. There may be a very limited amount of time you can spend on a task, especially when compared with the time-frames for law-school tasks.
Be confident, and if you can’t be confident, at least pretend to be. If clients sense insecurity, they may be concerned about your competence.
Do not phone clients too many times. If you can address every issue with one phone call or email, do that. Clients do not appreciate being called repeatedly and may complain, sometimes because they are concerned that each time you call they may have to pay for it.
Do not use your phone while working, unless for work purposes. Be careful to switch it to silent mode, as having your phone ring while in a meeting with clients can be quite disruptive.
Do not assume anything. Check first to the best of your ability. It can be easy to overlook something that changes how the law applies to your client.
Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Try to find a precedent and copy the style, format, and character as best you can.
Do not forget that you are dealing with people in a high-pressure environment. They can be stressed and under enormous amounts of pressure, and sometimes they can become furious or begin to cry. If they say something offensive in a moment of anger, try to understand their perspective and concentrate on how you can move forward.
Ultimately, while there is a wide range of considerations for PLT graduates, the most important is keeping calm, focussing on your work, and following the guidance of your supervising solicitor. Your PLT will contribute heavily to your early experience as a lawyer!