LLVL: How To Stand Out In The Chambering Pool

Onge of the most commonly-asked questions by chambering pupils is how to stand out, in a positive way, from the crowd of chambering pupils.
In a big firm, a typical number of chambering pupils can be anything from 15 to 40. When it comes to being retained as an associate at the end (in reality this happens around the six-month mark) of the chambering period, a retention rate of less than 20% is normal. So, as a chambering pupil, how do you stand out? This is what I tell those who ask.
Firstly, you must understand the way work is allocated in most firms. The work is usually brought in by a senior member of the team, or firm (depending on the size of the firm, there may not be a team-based system in place). This senior member would then speak to a more junior member (a junior partner, or senior associate) to discuss the new matter, and to plan which junior associates and chambering pupils to assign to the file. In most cases, the decision is left with the junior partner or senior associate, particularly for files in which the senior member only plays a supervisory role.
So, the first thing you must do is get to know the junior partners or senior associates in your firm. Different approaches work for different individuals, obviously, but every individual appreciates a good ego-boost. Of course, it may be a bit forward, and unwelcome, to walk up to every single one of these people to introduce yourself and make small talk. I find that an email works. This has actually happened to me several times, where a new chambering pupil or attachment student drops me an email to introduce themselves more extensively (ie beyond the “hello goodbye” which would have been exchanged on their first day). Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face chat, but an email is simple, non-disruptive, and a good chance to say something without risking an awkward silence.
Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:
Dear Alter Ego,
I’m Sharon, the new chambering pupil in your department. We met earlier this morning. I understand that you are one of the key practitioners for the capital markets and corporate advisory work in the firm. These are areas which I am very interested in, and hopefully I will get the chance to learn from you during my chambering period.
Best regards,
Sharon
Short, simple, and managing to fit in a bit of an ego-boost (who doesn’t like to be thought of as “one of the key practitioners” in a firm?). I would definitely remember Sharon more than the other pupils in her batch when my next capital markets or corporate advisory brief lands on my desk.
Some would say this is “sucking up”. That kind of talk is immature. Some would have you think that they don’t welcome receiving these kind of emails. They are most likely lying, or trying to act nonchalant. Believe me, most (if not all) lawyers would love to receive an email like that.
But what happens once you get your foot in the door is even more important. There’s no point getting a shot at proving yourself if you’re then going to make a horrible impression. And in this business, as in most, first impressions really count. Think about it — there are 30 pupils, if you mess up badly, you’re unlikely to be getting a second shot unless you’re lucky.
These are some quick tips which would help a chambering pupil or young lawyer to make a good initial impression on me:
Ask me about the work I do, and the way I work. People enjoy talking about themselves, particularly if given the impression that their audience is keen to listen because they want to learn. “I want to learn how to be you” — there’s no bigger ego boost than that.
Do not gossip. If you share office gossip with me, or ask about office rumours, that is a major put-off. Gossip is malicious, and those who indulge in it do it to mask their own insecurities. If you have to resort to talking about others to make conversation, you really need to ask yourself what that says about your character, and life. Plus, the fact that you are gossiping affects how much I can trust you. Who’s to say you won’t be gossiping about me to someone else? Big no-no.
Do your work well. Obviously. You will make mistakes. You are expected to make mistakes. But your attitude towards the work, and your character in handling the client, the file, and the reaction to the work you’ve produced, speaks volumes. At a junior level, there are a lot of people with the same ability as you — your character is what will make you stand out.

LLVL mediumTips for chambering pupils and young lawyers to make a good first impression.

One of the most commonly-asked questions by chambering pupils is how to stand out, in a positive way, from the crowd of chambering pupils.

In a big firm, a typical number of chambering pupils can be anything from 15 to 40. When it comes to being retained as an associate at the end of the chambering period (though in reality this happens around the six-month mark), a retention rate of less than 20% is normal. So, as a chambering pupil, how do you stand out? This is what I tell those who ask.

Firstly, you must understand the way work is allocated in most firms. The work is usually brought in by a senior member of the team, or firm (depending on the size of the firm, there may not be a team-based system in place). This senior member would then speak to a more junior member (a junior partner, or senior associate) to discuss the new matter, and to plan which junior associates and chambering pupils to assign to the file. In most cases, the decision is left with the junior partner or senior associate, particularly for files in which the senior member only plays a supervisory role.

So, the first thing you must do is get to know the junior partners or senior associates in your firm. Different approaches work for different individuals, obviously, but every individual appreciates a good ego-boost. Of course, it may be a bit forward, and unwelcome, to walk up to every single one of these people to introduce yourself and make small talk. I find that an email works. This has actually happened to me several times, where a new chambering pupil or attachment student drops me an email to introduce themselves more extensively (ie beyond the “hello goodbye” which would have been exchanged on their first day). Of course, nothing beats a face-to-face chat, but an email is simple, non-disruptive, and a good chance to say something without risking an awkward silence.

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:

Dear Alter Ego,

I’m Sharon, the new chambering pupil in your department. We met earlier this morning. I understand that you are one of the key practitioners for the capital markets and corporate advisory work in the firm. These are areas which I am very interested in, and hopefully I will get the chance to learn from you during my chambering period.

Best regards,

Sharon

Short, simple, and managing to fit in a bit of an ego-boost (who doesn’t like to be thought of as “one of the key practitioners” in a firm?). I would definitely remember Sharon more than the other pupils in her batch when my next capital markets or corporate advisory brief lands on my desk.

Some would say this is “sucking up”. That kind of talk is immature. That kind of talk are the words of people who will find it hard to survive in their career. Some would have you think that they don’t welcome receiving these kind of emails. They are most likely lying, or trying to act nonchalant. Believe me, most (if not all) lawyers would love to receive an email like that.

But what happens once you get your foot in the door is even more important. There’s no point getting a shot at proving yourself if you’re then going to make a horrible impression. And in this business, as in most, first impressions really count. Think about it — there are 30 pupils, if you mess up badly, you’re unlikely to be getting a second shot unless you’re lucky.

These are some quick tips which would help a chambering pupil or young lawyer to make a good initial impression on me:

  1. Ask me about the work I do, and the way I work. People enjoy talking about themselves, particularly if given the impression that their audience is keen to listen because they want to learn. “I want to learn how to be you” — there’s no bigger ego boost than that.
  2. Do not gossip. If you share office gossip with me, or ask about office rumours, that is a major put-off. Gossip is malicious, and those who indulge in it do it to mask their own insecurities. If you have to resort to talking about others to make conversation, you really need to ask yourself what that says about your character, and life. Plus, the fact that you are gossiping affects how much I can trust you. Who’s to say you won’t be gossiping about me to someone else? Big no-no.
  3. Do your work well. Obviously. You will make mistakes. You are expected to make mistakes. But your attitude towards the work, and your character in handling the client, the file, and the reaction to the work you’ve produced, speaks volumes. At a junior level, there are a lot of people with the same ability as you — your character is what will make you stand out.

Alter Ego has been a corporate lawyer in Kuala Lumpur for many years. Livin’ La Vida Loyar is a weekly semi-fictional, sorta-kinda-fact-based, non-chronological account of her experiences in the legal industry. She is writing this column anonymously because she doesn’t want people around her to know that, when she’s furiously typing on her BlackBerry in their presence, she is actually taking notes for this column! Plus of course there’s all this mumbo-jumbo about client confidentiality and getting disbarred. If you have an interesting story to share from your experiences as a lawyer, your encounters with a lawyer, or if you have a question about lawyers, please email her at [email protected]. Confidentiality is guaranteed. She thinks tweeting should be left to the birds. As all fiction is to some extent autobiographical, you may think she’s writing about you. She’s not. Jangan perasan. You may also think you know her. You don’t. Jangan kay-poh.


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Posted on 9 March 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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5 Responses to LLVL: How To Stand Out In The Chambering Pool

  1. su san

    breakthecycle – no one boost your ego ah, why so angry? i think its fair to say that most people will appreciate some ego boost. we are all human. if you do not then is okay, but no need to call bullshit my fren.

  2. Break the cycle

    Whatever happened to being yourself, and being sincere. If you're cut out for the job, good things will happen. I think the idea of an email is great, but the ego boost stuff needs to go. If you're a pupil in a firm filled with people who are looking for ego boosts, you need to get the hell out of there because it's bound to be a shithole. It's exactly this sort of crappy advice that leads to generations of shitty lawyers being born, asskissers who get no real work done, and care little for humanity. I can't believe Loyar Burok is publishing this sort of bullshit.

  3. Spiritually and in the larger picture (to a point), of course you are right KH to condemn, but socially, just don't do it.

    KH, they are seeking a sense of identity. Whether appropriate or not, this shouldn't be condemned. Threadbare society becomes worse when anyone with a modicum of establishment rains on them.

    Your competitors-would-be may or may not turn out bad, but this is not the way to impart what you learnt, or the best way to learn, for some CPs in any case.

  4. K Tang

    These are some good tips for any industry, not just the legal one. I hold a senior position in an auditing firm in KL, and we get a lot of "freshies" every year too. I have just forwarded this to some of them.

  5. KH Koh

    Perhaps the first thing to do is to stop calling yourself a “chambering pupil”!

    How did this bastardized term become so entrenched in this jurisdiction?