How to... handle your first legal job

By Daniel Miles|04 March 2013

Dan Miles, a law student at Monash University, gives the lowdown on what it's like to start work in a law firm, as a receptionist.

Dan Miles, a law student at Monash University, gives the lowdown on what it's like to start work in a law firm, as a receptionist.

A few summers ago, I had the opportunity to do some reception work at a small law firm. Let’s call it Acme Solicitors to protect the innocent. I should stress, though, that it was exclusively reception work: no legal advice was given and no six-minute increments were recorded.  This made me the legal equivalent of a chunk of coral in a vast ocean of whales. Notice that I didn’t use ‘sharks’ there.Â

If you do ever get a chance to work in a small firm, in any capacity, you’ll notice that some like to be called ‘boutique’. Surely, though, this would mean calling the top-tiers ‘shopping centers’ or ‘malls’. Doing this would render their client base exclusively pre-teen girls and the very elderly. Not a very litigious bunch.


The other thing you’ll notice is that the smaller firms are broad churches. They’ll give everything a go. Among the areas of interest at my firm were conveyancing, immigration law, general litigation, employment, family and wills.

I was seventeen when I started at Acme, so even the butterflies in my stomach were edgy as I approached the door for the first time. It was the middle of summer, too, and I’m a sweater. A sweater in a suit. Anyway, I entered to be greeted by the existing receptionist. She was a lovely, older lady.

Training started instantly. She showed me how to answer the phone:

‘Acme Solicitors, Daniel speaking; how may I help you?’.

This is a phrase I would come to know well.


She took me through the computer. Asked me if I knew what Google was. I said I did but I preferred to Ask Jeeves. She had no idea what I was talking about, so I coughed and spluttered a bit to fill the laugh-less void I had left. She moved on. Could I navigate Excel? Send an e-mail? Yes. Good. She then bemoaned our paperless society and left me to it.

So there I was, all alone. The new face of Acme Solicitors. Left with just an ‘In my day...’ story about quills and ink wells and blotting paper (or something) bouncing around my brain.

The phone rang - my gosh. I hadn’t even had time to practice my greeting. Oh well, I went for it anyway. I picked it up and immediately contracted a case of the voice-shakes. I forged on with a barrage of awkward statements and got through the call. It was just someone making an appointment. My palms were dripping. This was not a good start and I was ready to pull the phone’s cord from the wall.

However, all was not lost. I remembered what Shannon Noll taught me years before: I had to lift. He knows how hard it can get. Most importantly, he knows that I’m stronger than this. So lift I did.

Each call became progressively easier. Eventually, the shakes stopped and the palms dried. I even began to chat to my colleagues, who were three lawyers and two conveyancers. They were all delightful and charming and they didn’t laugh when I asked who the partners were.

Each day, too, became more comfortable. I developed a routine and some friendships - with clients and co-workers - and I enjoyed it immensely. I’ve never set foot in a top, or even mid, tier firm but I imagine that we would go together about as well as socks and boat shoes or musk sticks and anything. (Note to anyone in HR at a top-tier reading this: feel free to give me a job and change my mind.)                Â

So, I would recommend giving the small firm a go. Even better, do it in a rural location. They need lawyers like Matt Preston (would probably) need a special cravat carrying case. Badly.

Who enjoys wandering around a shopping centre, anyway?

How to... handle your first legal job
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