How can you make a great impression? What can you do to get your career off to a running start? Your law firm probably has given you some indication of what it expects as part of its orientation. However, there’s nothing like the perspective of someone who's been there and done it already. Here is some practical advice from those who know…2nd years…
- Leave Pride at the Door
It’s clear you are among the best and the brightest, but leave your pride at the door. New to the firm, you will be put into situations where you don’t know what to do or what to say. No one—not client nor attorney—expects a first-year to the know all of the answers. They do, however, expect you to be able get the answers. So be willing to ask questions every step of the way and utilize the resources around you to get answers.
- Observe & Listen
Use your first days at the firm to get a sense of your environment. You can learn a lot about the dynamics of the office, a deal or a case by simply observing. Then try to be involved in as much as you can, so you can quickly get up the learning curve and start enjoying a much greater role in what you’re doing.
- Identify the Go-to People
This is no time to be shy. Get to know your colleagues. Identify the “go-to” people with whom you click. Then go to them with your questions. Tap into their experience. Talk through your concerns. They’ve all been in your shoes and can offer you good insights and support.
- Learn the “3 Ps”
Familiarize yourself with your firm’s People, Policies and Practices. Get to know the library staff, paralegals, secretaries and support staff in the print room, mail room, even your LexisNexis rep. Understand their roles and learn how they work. At the same time, acquaint yourself with your firm’s intranet, the billing system, the legal research system and other business and technology tools. The understanding you gain now will pay big dividends in efficiency as your caseload builds.
- Get Organized
Good organization is a huge bonus. It will be especially helpful when you are juggling six or seven assignments. So establish good habits at the outset—make a to-do list, prioritize your activities, then stay on track. It’s not a foolproof approach, but it will make your job easier 99 percent of the time, and it will certainly project a professional image to clients, partners and your colleagues.
- Demonstrate Your Enthusiasm
Senior associates and partners are genuinely impressed when you demonstrate enthusiasm for a project. The more interest you show, the more likely they will be to draw you into a project—the calls, negotiations, correspondence, etc.—which will broaden your experience, prepare you for more responsibility and build their confidence in you.
OK, so it’s not all exciting work. Sometimes it can be downright tedious, but keep your thoughts to yourself and keep smiling. Everyone’s been there and done that. No one likes to listen to a complainer.
- Take the Initiative
Ask for involvement. “If there’s a conference call, I’d like to sit in.” “If you want, I’ll make a copy of the memo, so I can familiarize myself with what you’re trying to do.” You may not always get a yes. However, your willingness to be part of the entire process and not just handle a discrete part will make a favorable impression and open the door to some great learning opportunities.
Likewise, if after a number of assignments, you’re not getting substantive work, go after it. Talk to the assignment coordinator. Don’t wait for things to come to you. Create opportunities and let people know your interests.
- Focus on Quality
Though you’ll feel the pressure to do more and bill more, quality work is going to take you a lot further in your career than mere quantity. Demonstrate your command of the law by producing a great work product. When getting an assignment, listen carefully and determine exactly what is expected. Know the issues before you start. Ask questions. Get a specific deadline and, if needed, clarify priorities. Then be ready to put in the hours to make your work letter-perfect. Attention to detail matters.
- Acknowledge and Handle Mistakes Swiftly
Despite all your efforts, you will probably make a mistake from time to time. It happens. No one expects you to be perfect. Just don’t dwell on it. Handle it swiftly and with grace. Acknowledge it at once, correct it quickly, then move on.
- Keep People Apprised
Juggling assignments is challenging. Rarely, does everything go the way you want it to go. That’s why communication is vital. Keep your assigning attorney and others on your team apprised of your progress. Alert them to problems or conflicts. If you see you can’t hit the deadline, advise them why not. With voice mail, email and everything else your firm provides, you should be able to keep people informed. They may not always like the news, but they’ll respect the fact that you kept them advised.
- Treat Everyone with Dignity & Respect
Treat your partners and senior associates as clients. And be sure you extend the same courtesy and respect to the library staff, paralegals, secretaries and support people throughout your firm. They are invaluable resources who deserve your respect. Moreover, when you’re speeding to deadline, they will be pivotal to your success.
- Carpe Diem!
If someone offers you an opportunity, seize it! For example, if a partner offers you an opportunity to shadow them, do it. It’s a great chance to learn and observe. Or, given the opportunity, involve yourself in pro bono work. It’s a wonderful way to be involved with a case from start to finish, and get a feel for the big picture.
- Make Time for Yourself
Practicing law is demanding work, but work is not everything. You’ve got to make time for yourself if you want to be at your best for the firm. No one thinks less of the hard worker who takes some time. They know you deserve it.
- Maintain your Balance
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Take each day and each assignment, as it comes. When you have a tough day and things don’t go as planned, keep it in perspective. Look for the humor. Try to laugh at yourself. Remember: all first-years are in the same boat and everyone was a first-year at one point, even the partners.
Relax & Enjoy!
After years of study and hard work, you’ve achieved your dream. You are an attorney now with the opportunity to do interesting, rewarding work. Relax and enjoy it. Savor the sweet taste of living the life you love!