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You would be mistaken if you thought that arts and crafts had nothing to do with practicing law. This discovery began when Saajandeep Singh, the trainee solicitor at Ravenscroft & Schmierer tasked me with compiling pre-trial, correspondence, and hearing bundles. As a Comparative Literature graduate, this task felt as if I were stepping into a foreign country and could not speak a single word of their language.
I had a lot of questions. Why are there so many enclosures in one document? Should I use a 2-inch or 3-inch binder? Why is there so much animosity between the parties? Is anyone ever going to read the hundreds of pages we just printed? The task seemed simple - merge the files, paginate the merged files, print and file based on the index - or so I thought. I ended up going through more than a thousand pages to eventually find that a summons and affirmation had been put underneath one another. They were supposed to belong to completely different parts of the bundle.
At this point, Saajandeep asked me how my progress was going. Well, I paused and did not know what to say. To my surprise, he was very calm and understanding when I told him about this error. Unsurprised at my rookie mistake, he said “this is why you need to check every page of the bundle before you print”. I later discovered that the two documents had already been merged before I had started printing. This led me to learn that I should always review a file at its earliest instance when given to me so that I can familiarise myself with every section of it.
When it came to printing spines for the bundles, I really understood the importance of handicraft skills in a profession like law. Growing up, I could never cut a perfect straight line even if a straight line were printed on a page already. I thought this would not matter in a profession like law - where I presumed that lawyers would not be judged on their arts and crafts skills. But then I realised that the tidiness of our bundle was of great importance. A tidy bundle would enable the judge to have a good impression of our firm, our lawyers, and our client. A bundle that was neatly finished would enable our client to have confidence in us and feel reassured that we were prepared for the hearing.
Some of the many bundles we compiled.
This may seem too miniscule to care about, but I have observed that professionalism extends beyond the contents of legal documents and into the smallest details of one’s practice. I never expected that compiling a court bundle would enable me to learn about so many intricacies involved in civil procedure. My experience of compiling bundles really felt like a workplace edition of an art class - hands on, detail driven, and precise.
Though, Ravenscroft & Schmierer’s office was not the only place where I was exposed to the legal world. The firm’s assistant solicitor Julian Tam kindly brought my fellow intern Ashley and I along to a hearing at the High Court during the second week of my internship.
That morning, I felt like a young child awaiting to embark on a school field-trip. Only having visited Magistrates’ Courts and the District Court before for various hearings, I was unsure what to expect. Would the High Court be drastically different from them? I was filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead of getting off at Sai Ying Pun station, where Ravenscroft & Schmierer’s office was located, my usual commute extended for a few extra stops.
To my surprise, after more than a year and a half of the pandemic, the High Court’s security check at the lobby was the closest experience I had to travelling. We were required to put down our bags for checking and had to walk through a metal detector. Despite our hearing being open to public, Ashley and I were the only spectators. The orderliness of the court also meant that the loudest thing in the courtroom was the turning of pages. As a spectator, it felt as if I were watching a movie. The judge swiftly walked in, we bowed, and the hearing began. The judge sat composed, without a wig, and leaned forward to study each document. She spoke in a calm and rational manner, picking up small details along the way. Dressed in a black gown, her attire was different from the barrister who was dressed in a navy-blue suit. I observed the barrister answer questions posed by the judge, whilst Julian hurriedly scribbled amendments made by the judge. This was only half of it.
Afterwards, Ashley and I observed the barrister and Julian draft an order according to the amendments suggested by the judge earlier, to be approved by her as soon as possible. This experience brought to light the time-sensitive and high-pressure nature of the legal profession - where lawyers are expected to deliver accurately, concisely, and diligently - especially the case when court hearings take time to schedule and hence one must not waste a hearing before a judge. The barrister studiously tapped away at his laptop, as Julian assisted by double checking each bundle for the correct account numbers, names, and dates.
This reality also highlighted the importance of proof-reading in the legal profession, even when you are in a time crunch. One might think, after working on the same bundle for months, or even years, it would be easy to have become well-acquainted with the specifics of each case. But the reality is that only proof-reading can guarantee accuracy and sensitivity to each case - especially when there are multiple parties involved. This is because it can be easy to confuse fine details – such as bank account names and numbers – when you are working on multiple cases at once.
As four weeks have flown by, this internship has proved to be extremely useful towards helping me understand more about a solicitor’s duties and responsibilities. I am immensely grateful to have been warmly welcomed by the team at Ravenscroft & Schmierer and leave this internship even more certain about pursuing a legal career. I am more than excited for my legal journey ahead and am sure that I will be able to apply what I have learnt here to my future endeavours!
Click here to read the full legal article that I co-authored during my internship.
Shirley is currently a student Hong Kong University and is completing her JD (Juris Doctor) studies and completed her internship at Ravenscroft & Schmierer in June 2021.