In late 2018, Jones Mitchell family lawyer Ruiqi Bai presented to a group of young law students at Bond University on the Gold Coast.
Ruiqi was admitted in June 2018, and has worked with Jones Mitchell since October the previous year – giving her plenty of time to learn the basics of firm law and identify the things to look out for as a young family lawyer in Queensland.
Her opening advice? Once you’re admitted, ditch your ego and be like a child keen to learn. No one expects you to know everything, but they do expect you to speak up if you’re unsure or need help.
When it comes to drafting – a huge part of life as a lawyer – she recommends asking yourself three things:
- Are you really using the right legal words? Read everyone else’s documents to get a feel for the words they use and compare to yours.
- Do you know what the document is intended to do? Research as much as you can before starting, and check along the way to make sure you’re not leaving anything out.
- Have you used the correct tone? Check with your mentor – they will be able to tell you what impact the subtle differences in phrasing can have.
Much of a young lawyer’s life, when not drafting formal advice, is taking notes of client consultations and internal conversations. Ruiqi’s advice is simple:
- take a pen and paper with you everywhere anytime
- Write down every single word your boss/mentor/client says
- Always document the date, time, location and participants in your notes
It’s a marathon, not a sprint
It can be intimidating starting at a firm, with lots of new faces, power dynamics, processes and systems. Ruiqi recommends keeping focused on steady growth, learning and evolving your legal skills gradually.
- Remember many small steps are easier than a few big steps
- Be patient
- Avoid rushing
Check before you hit ‘Send’
Lawyers give advice, and that advice has consequences. As a young lawyer fresh out of university, it’s common for lawyers to be instructed to communicate with any number of involved parties. Ruiqi’s suggestion is that you always get permission to send an email, call someone, take a meeting etc.
A life in law is a life of learning
The biggest thing? Remember that you are still learning. So long as you’re obviously putting in the work and doing your best, your colleagues and superiors will be understanding and supportive. They’ve been there before and they know the learning curve is big and intimidating.