Trial & Error: Essential reading for the junior lawyer

Are you seeking inspiration, insights or talking points? Check out my list of essential reads for the junior lawyer —four that have profoundly impacted my practice: 

1. Chris Hadfield’s an Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

It’s not a book about law, but there are many takeaways that apply to any ambitious lawyer, such as the value of working hard and parking your ego. The biggest lesson I gleaned from this book was to plan for every contingency. I found myself reflecting on this advice earlier this year as I geared up for my first trial. I considered all possible permeations and equipped myself appropriately. I came prepared with materials that my team may need in the face of possible objections and while I did not think of everything, I was able to plan for most contingencies and add a great deal of value to the trial team. 

2. The Rules of Civil Procedure (or whatever legislation is most relevant to your practice)

Phil Moore, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TD Bank Group, advised me as an articling student to read the Canadian Business Corporations Act cover to cover… in one sitting. He explained that in so doing, I would obtain insight into the contents and structure of the statute. Regardless of your area of practice, I firmly believe his advice holds true. I recently familiarized myself with the most relevant legislation to my practice, Rules of Civil Procedure, which has helped me immensely. With a thorough understanding of the Rules, I know exactly where to turn when I face new issues in my practice. 

3. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

This one is worth the buzz. The messaging in this book is essential for all junior lawyers. There are many useful nuggets in this book, and I’ve previously shared one in my article on how to properly take a vacation. Lean In is packed with so much practical wisdom that I could write an entire column about this book alone.

4. Daily news

You’ll hear it often in your career that reading the news is important. It took me a few road trips with colleagues and a handful of awkward elevator rides to truly understand the necessity of being current with the daily news. Being current not only provides you with a litany of talking points to fill elevator silences, but it also deepens your perspective of the world around you. 

Notable mentions:

While I haven’t yet carved the time out to read these books, they came highly recommended by my colleagues and sit on my current “to-read” list:

  • Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer by Grover Cleveland. This book was provided by Osler to all of its first year associates.
  • Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future by Richard Susskin. This one describes what the future of technology has in store for lawyers.

Got any other great must-reads? Let me know

Atrisha Lewis is a second-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis

Trial & Error: How to survive a performance review

Performance reviews are one of the more nerve-wracking rituals at law firms, but they’re a crucial part of your career development. They really do help you become a better lawyer by learning from your successes and your inevitable missed marks.

As important as they are, they’re not easy. Here are a few strategies for navigating your first few performance reviews. Underlying each strategy is the idea that you should never be surprised by your results — by the time you arrive at your review, you should already have a pretty solid idea of where you stand. Seeking feedback year-round will ensure that you consistently meet expectations (and then blow them out of the water).

1. Gather your own feedback

I supplement my annual review with extra feedback that I collect through two avenues: non-lawyers and assigning lawyers.

360-degree feedback

Collecting feedback year-round from non-lawyers is essential — I rely on these colleagues to be an effective lawyer. In particular, I ask for feedback from those I delegate work to, as they may not be as forthcoming with advice. I schedule quarterly coffees breaks with my assistant to discuss how we can better work together or how I can be more effective. I also ask for feedback on my managing and delegating skills from articling students with whom I work closely.  


At the conclusion of a major project, I will ask the assigning lawyer for an informal debrief on my performance. In my experience, asking for this type of feedback has been well-received — it shows initiative and an eagerness to learn. The key is timeliness. Seek out feedback just after a project is finished while it’s still in the assigning partner’s memory. That way you’ll get concrete and relevant advice.

2. Critically assess your work

Self-reflection is crucial to the success of a performance review. Before my annual review, I use the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis tactic to examine each of my files. This allows me to speak confidently in my review and present concrete examples of areas where I excelled and areas where I can improve.

3. Advocate for yourself

This can be daunting. It’s tough not to feel like you’re bragging, but it’s important for your reviewer to know about your successes. To prepare, I jot down three or four points — such as my business development activities or my contribution to Precedent — that I want to highlight for my reviewer. While my work on cases and files is usually evident, the work I do behind the scenes is just as important, but it’s less obvious. Not only is speaking to your successes empowering, but it demonstrates to your reviewer a level of professional maturity.

In your early days of lawyering, performance reviews are critical for giving you insights into your progress. The key to a successful review is being open to the feedback, learning from it and growing as a professional. 

Atrisha Lewis is a first-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis