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. Letâ€™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.Â Â This made me the legal equivalent of a chunk of coral in a vast ocean of whales. Notice that I didnâ€™t use â€˜sharksâ€™ there.Â
If you do ever get a chance to work in a small firm, in any capacity, youâ€™ll notice that some like to be called â€˜boutiqueâ€™. Surely, though, this would mean calling the top-tiers â€˜shopping centersâ€™ or â€˜mallsâ€™. Doing this would render their client base exclusively pre-teen girls and the very elderly. Not a very litigious bunch.
The other thing youâ€™ll notice is that the smaller firms are broad churches. Theyâ€™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 Iâ€™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:
â€˜Acme Solicitors, Daniel speaking; how may I help you?â€™.
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 â€˜In my day...â€™ story about quills and ink wells and blotting paper (or something) bouncing around my brain.
The phone rang - my gosh. I hadnâ€™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 phoneâ€™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 Iâ€™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 didnâ€™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. Iâ€™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 Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 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?