Tips 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.
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:
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.