During this term break, I had the good fortune of spending two months as an intern in a law firm. It was a glimpse into the possible future and an eye-opener to the real work behind the ‘glamour’ of being a lawyer.
Firstly, please forget what you binge-watched on Netflix, whether it was Suits or the recent kdrama, Law School. As an aside, a year-one student in the kdrama scored 98 out of 100 for her Constitutional Law exam, only because she submitted her paper late and had 2 marks deducted – either the scriptwriter had a brilliant sense of sardonic humour, or was delusional. But I digress.
What I learnt during my brief stint:
1. Research. Research. Research.
Now I know why studying case laws and precedents is foundational in our law degree. It will be the constant reference we need for legal principles and case precedents supporting arguments we have to make as lawyers.
2. Draft. Draft. Draft.
This is the bulk of what lawyers do – affidavits, submissions, representations, applications, mitigation pleas etc. Hence, the importance of legal writing. And it will need a lot of practice and revisions as I found out.
3. Listen. Listen. Listen.
When clients come for legal consultation, you need to first listen to understand. And to listen intently because accounts aren’t always coherent and there would be a mixture of facts and allegations. So, as you listen, you need to acquire the ability to separate the two towards a coherent picture of the issues.
4. Question. Question. Question.
Clients always tell you what they want you to know, which often means the better picture of themselves. That is not always the case. So the art of delicate questioning comes into play – being able to coax the client to trust and share whilst maintaining objectivity.
Here is the most important takeaway for me and why being a lawyer matters: finding and engaging the right lawyer is a daunting effortful process. For someone to seek out legal services, that person must believe (rightly or wrongly) that he has been aggrieved in some manner. It is the lawyer’s job, therefore, to do his best to help this person resolve his issue, legitimately before the law.
Which means, you have to be tenacious. Because handling legal cases is a lengthy process. It doesn’t simply end with the first submission or the first hearing. Cases can take years to resolve. Sometimes, you need to appeal and seek further recourse. And sometimes, prima facie, the possible legal basis for your argument is seemingly absent – you have to keep looking until you find that nugget of fact or law that may potentially turn the tide in your favour.
Much like our pursuit of this law degree. Tenacity is key. Personally, it is daunting (we have only completed one semester and there are 7 more to go!). This is just the beginning of a journey towards being lawyers worthy of being given the right to represent clients in legal matters.
Finally, as a ‘kkondae’ intern, it was nerve-wrecking having to start all over again, learning the ropes of a completely new field. But it was an enriching one. It gave context to our curriculum and enhanced my appreciation of what we will be learning. So to my fellow course-mates, if you are able to, try to intern during our next term break – and may you profit from it as much as I did.
P/S: “Kkondae” is a Korean slang for someone from a out-of-touch older generation.