Want to Make a Good Impression at Your Law Firm Job?

Want to Make a Good Impression at Your Law Firm Job?

I'm very excited to interview Desiree Moore, President and founder of Greenhorn Legal. They're filling a huge gap in law school education, namely getting students ready to actually, you know, practice law!

Today Desiree's talking about how to make the transition from school to practice, first as a summer associate and later as a full-time employee. If you follow her advice, I have no doubt you'll be way ahead of the curve!

Let's get started.

Alison: I've got a summer associate position in a large, big-city law firm, and I'm already starting to get nervous about it. I don't have a lot of work experience, and I'm not used to being in really formal social situations. Do you have any advice for how I can fit in, and make sure I get an offer at the end of the summer?

Desiree: This is a great question. In recent years, summer associate positions are increasingly difficult to come by. If you have been offered a position in a law firm for the summer, you should be proud. Still, it is important to remember that this is not where your efforts end. Rather, this is just the beginning.

With this said, there is nothing to be nervous about. Like anything new, succeeding as a summer associate takes some planning and effort but it is absolutely within your control and doable.

Treat your summer associate position as an extended interview.

Take care to have meaningful interactions and leave a positive impression on each of the attorneys you work with.

Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure that you assimilate smoothly into your law firm and have a rewarding summer associate experience:

Dress The Part

As a summer associate, your professionalism is central to your success. In all instances, take care to demonstrate that you are a professional and that you are serious about working at the firm.

Putting thought into your attire is an easy way to project professionalism.

If your law firm observes a "business casual" dress code, as many law firms do, consider that the emphasis is on the word "business." Opt for nice slacks, knee length skirts, button-up shirts, and sweaters. For ladies, tights and closed toed shoes are advisable, as well.

If you are invited to observe or participate in a law firm event, from a client meeting to a court hearing to a deposition, without exception, wear a suit (and as a good rule of thumb, when in doubt, wear a suit).

Put thought into your attire at law firm functions outside of the office, as well. For daytime events such as baseball games or city-tours, khakis and a collared shirt are a safe bet for everyone. For evening and social events, opt for conservative, understated party attire.

As a tip, your summer wardrobe does not have to cost a fortune. Stores like H&M and Zara offer a wide selection of affordable, sleek business and business casual options for both men and women.

Participate In Firm Social Events

As lawyers, we are in the service industry. Practicing law is a social endeavor.

As a summer associate, among other things, you will be evaluated on your ability to act sociably with the attorneys in your firm.

You will make a much stronger impression if you are not only diligent in your work but also personable and easy to get along with.

You can demonstrate that you are a sociable person by making an effort on a daily basis to engage in friendly, comfortable dialogue with the attorneys in your office.

The other way to demonstrate that you are comfortable in social situations is to participate in firm social events:

  • Participate in any designated summer associate event.
  • Join your colleagues for lunch (this does not have to be a fancy occasion lunch - sometimes the best dialogue comes from grabbing a sandwich and sitting outdoors with a couple of attorneys who have an hour to spare).
  • Attend a happy hour sponsored by a department in your firm that you would like to learn more about.

Whatever the occasion, take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the attorneys in your firm. And help them get to know you. As an easy segue, approach someone new and simply say, "I don't think we've met yet. I'm . . . ." In all instances, make eye contact, speak audibly, and demonstrate by the conversation that you are a well-rounded, interesting, and memorable person.

Above all, be yourself!

(As an aside, while it is important to demonstrate that you are comfortable in social situations, you must be mindful about the way you are socializing. If you are attending a law firm event with alcohol, implement a two-drink limit and drink plenty of water throughout the event.)

Be Open To Learning

It takes years to master a legal practice. Attorneys are constantly learning - this is the foundation of the profession.

Do not go into your summer with the expectation that, in order to get a job offer, you must have all the answers.

No one in your firm will expect this. Instead, you will be rewarded for being open to learning, and to showing progress throughout the summer.

At the beginning of your summer, set realistic goals that are designed to facilitate learning. These goals may include working with as many attorneys as possible and building a strong portfolio of diverse work.

If your law firm has a mid-summer review process, seek out constructive pointers that will enhance your performance for the remainder of the summer.

In all instances, be curious about the cases you are working on. No matter what the assignment, express enthusiasm at the prospect of working on it (remember, no job is beneath you).

Demonstrate that you work well with others, and that you work well in teams.

Capitalize on your strengths (if you are a good legal writer, for example, seek out projects that will highlight this).

Strive to develop as a practitioner so you are on a clear upward trajectory and the perfect candidate for an offer at the end of the summer.

I'm a 3L who will be working at a small law firm when I graduate. What three things can I do this last semester, to ensure I'm ready to hit the ground running?

This is another great question. In the midst of a 3L year, with graduation and the bar exam pending, it is easy to forget that there is life after law school. But there is. And it is a good idea to be ready for it.

If you are forward thinking, you will set the groundwork for your first year of practice while you are still in school.

As an attorney in a small law firm, you are likely going to be expected to take on substantive work as soon as you begin at the firm. Therefore, it is particularly important that you are prepared.

I would suggest you do the following three things in the last months of law school, before you transition into your legal practice:

Self-Educate

In your third year of law school, you likely have some free time on your hands.

Spend this time engaging in some practical skills training (i.e., take responsibility for learning the stuff you didn't learn in law school).

Start by outlining what you anticipate your role will be in your firm, and seek out ways to educate yourself and improve your skills in that area.

For example, depending on your practice, you may be called upon to speak publicly in court hearings or client meetings. TED.com offers amazing lectures that are inspirational and instructional for any aspiring public speaker. Toastmasters is a great organization for enhancing public speaking skills, as well.

If your practice will involve facilitating complex mergers and acquisitions, find publicly available merger and acquisition documents and familiarize yourself with how those documents are typically structured. Learn what the common or recurring provisions mean and what objectives they serve.

If you anticipate regularly filing documents in court, head over to the courthouse and spend a day or two walking around on the administrative floors. Ask a clerk to walk you through the filing process.

In all instances, be proactive about your professional development well in advance of beginning at the firm.

Keep Up With Legal News

In creating the content for my live and on-line training programs for new lawyers, I have worked with and interviewed countless attorneys.

Some of the most successful attorneys I have spoken with make a point of keeping up with legal news.

Whether they follow recent Supreme Court decisions, weekly publications from city and state bar associations, the National Law Review, or otherwise, reading about legal current events is integral to their daily routine.

As a new lawyer, the importance of keeping up with legal news cannot be overstated.

By doing this, you will be able to contribute meaningfully to conversations with your law firm colleagues about cutting edge legal information, you will be first to learn of developments in the law that may impact your firm or your firm's clients, and you will be building a foundation for locating and connecting with potential clients in the future.

In order to keep up with legal news efficiently, you should devise a strategy that works for you (reading each and every publication daily is not realistic, of course). As a tip, Twitter is an excellent resource for keeping up with legal news. All of the leading legal publications are on Twitter and these publications post news and other information regularly. If you follow these sources on Twitter, all of your legal news will be compiled in one place, and you can comb through your Twitter feed for articles of interest.

Set Goals

Setting goals is one of the most important steps you can take toward a successful legal career.

Before you begin practicing, take some time to think about what you would like to get out of your first year of practice.

Choose two big goals for the year, and create an action plan in furtherance of those goals.

In other words, identify two things you would like to accomplish professionally in the first year of your practice and then break down the small actions you will have to take in order to accomplish those goals.

If you are uncertain as to realistic goals and action plans for your first year, invite a colleague from your law firm to coffee (your treat!) and ask him or her to help you identify a couple of realistic goals for the first year of your practice. He or she will be happy to assist you, and will think highly of the fact that you are thinking ahead to your career.

Could you talk a bit about what you do in an average day at work, and how it's similar to (or different from) what you thought you'd be doing when you started law school?

On an average day when I am in my office, I try to follow my own advice and spend a half hour or so reading up on legal news and professional development articles. I do a lot of self-learning as an entrepreneur, which I love!

I spend the majority of my day working on content development for my attorney training programs, as well as preparing my weekly new lawyer tips, videos, and other free content that we distribute regularly. Most days, I also spend an hour or two connecting with colleagues and marketing my programs.

Now, on an average day when I have a training program scheduled, I do a half-hour or so review of my lecture notes in the morning and head off to the training site (a law firm or law school, for example) for half and full day practical skills training sessions with law students and new lawyers.

Prior to launching Greenhorn Legal, I spent six years as an associate in a large law firm. On any given day, I was taking depositions, attending client meetings, and drafting motions to be filed with the court.

While I enjoyed my practice, I have wanted to start my own business ever since I entered law school. When the idea for Greenhorn Legal came to me - a training program that is focused on the new lawyer experience and equipping new lawyers with the personal skills, practical skills, and business sense to succeed in their legal practices - I knew I had to give it a shot.

So, I suppose in some ways, while I did not yet know what business I would eventually run when I first started law school, in the end, my day to day is not too far from how I hoped things would turn out.

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Thanks, Desiree! Great tips and suggestions for the soon-to-be lawyers reading.

Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox. A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, she was a member of the Columbia Law Review, a Civ Pro Teaching Assistant, a Kent Scholar, and a Stone Scholar. After law school, she clerked in the District of Massachusetts and was a BigLaw patent litigator for two years. Now she helps other aspiring lawyers get into law school, get through, and stay true to themselves in the process.