Challenges of new lawyers during the pandemic
By: Atty. Jez Charlemagne Arago
It is almost a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic. And until now, we cannot even see the end of it, as if this pandemic will not end, or at least it will not end soon.
As we are also almost one (1) year into quarantine, many lawyers who passed the bar before the pandemic are of the opinion that new lawyers are missing a lot. I couldn’t agree more.
When the new lawyers passed the bar last year, the country is in the middle of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Businesses are closed except for the essentials like groceries, drugstores, and few food establishments. There is even no transportation available and you can only go out if you have a quarantine pass.
Law firms that are usually hiring after the bar results are released are also closed. And when you look for job vacancies in law firms, you really cannot find even one. So, while a lot are dreaming of the firm life, they can only apply for posts in the government as the are stable even with the pandemic or economic crisis.
There is a wide range of job opportunities in the government, as aside from entering the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) or becoming a public prosecutor, a lawyer can also join the legal service of different government offices or become a part of the legal team of government officials.
Entering the government service
While many think that the job in the government is easy, the truth is, it is not a walk in the park. The job in the government requires a lot of energy and enthusiasm. As the people in the government are in public service, they are required to serve as long as someone needs them.
During this extraordinary time, the bulk of a lawyer’s tasks in the government is also extraordinary. For those who are in the executive branch, it is not enough that you know the law. You also have to know the answer to every question that your supervisor throws at you. And if you do not know them, you have to learn them.
Aside from reviewing legal documents, writing legal opinions, memoranda and correspondences to different offices and entities, lawyers in government service may also be tasked to draft policies and to do administrative work. Lawyers in the government are also required to attend different meetings which most of the time are taking up their whole day. Thus, good time management is necessary in order to accomplish every paperwork and deliver the needs of the office.
There may be a steep learning curve as some things required are not learned from law school, but one will surely learn how to adapt. Moreover, the salary in the government is really competitive. Thus, despite the heavy workload, a new lawyer who starts working in the government will not feel that they are underpaid. The caveat, however, is it takes at least three months before a new employee in the government, regardless of the position, receives his or her salary.
Law Firm Life
Most new lawyers who are in the firm are those who were employed before the lockdown. It is very rare that someone is hired during or even after the lockdown. But as the courts started opening, law firms have slowly started recruiting their associates.
Joining a law firm will surely give a new lawyer the needed training in the practice. It is where the things one learned from law school will be tested and applied. One will learn how to write a good pleading, appear in court, conduct direct, cross, re-direct, and re-cross examinations, and connect and even bill the clients.
In pre-pandemic days, new lawyers can watch what other lawyers do during a trial. Most of the time, veteran lawyers are coaching new lawyers on what to say to the judge during a trial.
But since our country is still under lockdown, not everyone can physically appear in courts. Most hearings are done online, or if done physically, only the lawyers of the case currently being heard are allowed inside. Other lawyers have to wait outside the court while waiting for their case to be called. Thus, it is almost impossible for a new lawyer to observe and learn from the trial techniques of other lawyers.
An advantage however, is that lawyers working in firms can do their work remotely, as long as they can deliver. Moreover, most courts opt for pleadings to be filed online. This favors the lawyers as they can file even after office hours, as long as the filing falls within the deadline.
Going solo with this economic climate is really hard, especially for the new lawyers. Aside from the lack of network which is necessary in order to get clients, it is also difficult to bill clients when they also do not have much means to pay the services of a lawyer. Even those who are willing to pay opt to suspend temporarily their plans of engaging the services of a lawyer until they havethe required funds to pay them.
With solo practice, lawyers have to invest in equipment and office supplies. And when they are just starting, they even have to be the ones to go to the post office to mail their pleadings and motions to the other party, and to the courts to file the same.
It is not really advisable for new lawyers to engage in solo practice especially with this pandemic. It is still best that they first seek employment in a law firm or as a PAO lawyer before deciding to go solo. They will gain the knowledge and the network needed in the practice, and they will even learn one of the hardest skills in the practice and that is to collect from clients.
Despite these extraordinary challenges the new lawyers are facing, they also have the extraordinary will to overcome them. They do not just adapt but they also learned to innovate and providesolutions to their problems, which can surely be of use once this pandemic is over.