Although there is no single key to success in the legal profession, there are some basic principles that will help every young lawyer trying to find his way. Here are five tips to help young lawyers as they navigate the complexities of working in a corporate environment.
Get comfortable with the unknown
The first few years of practice can be stressful and overwhelming. Although law school has helped us hone our critical thinking and reasoning skills, it is common for us to feel unprepared to face the day-to-day realities of practicing law. In fact, it is as if you are tasked with navigating a dark tunnel, with a flashlight that only turns on every few hundred feet. This is especially true for those of us who entered the practice at the height of the pandemic.
During this time, you may feel as if you know nothing and even wonder if you belong where you are. This is often when “impostor syndrome” rears its ugly head: that voice that seeks to belittle your accomplishments by telling you that you’re not good or smart enough, and that it’s only a matter of time before someone realizes they’ve made a huge mistake. by hiring you.
The truth is, you don’t know much at all, but that’s okay. You are not responsible for having the same knowledge and experience as a partner who has been practicing for decades.
Understanding this core principle will lighten your load and allow you to focus on producing your best work and learning as much as possible, which is what your job as a junior assistant is, after all.
Understand that mistakes happen
It’s easy to imagine as a young lawyer that every professional in the field knows all there is to know and is never wrong. Perhaps this image is perpetuated by the lawyers we see on TV, who look polished, poised, and perfect, and whose trials or deals always conclude with an elegant bow at the end of the episode. Getting rid of this idealized image early will save you a lot of grief.
When you make a mistake (because you will, a lot of them), tell someone right away. There are few mistakes that can’t be corrected, and fewer that can screw the whole thing up. The worst thing you can do is cover it up, avoid it, or let it go. This will only lead to more anxiety, which is ultimately a disservice to your customer. Communicate with the partner and tell him what happened. They will respect you for admitting your mistakes and taking responsibility – no matter how upset they are at first.
Believe in yourself, but remember where you are because overconfidence (dare we say, arrogance?) will only hinder your development and growth. Maybe you were top of your class in law school, or editor of a law journal, or your closing argument won first place in your school’s mock trial competition. While it all sounds amazing on a resume and will go a long way to landing your dream job, those accomplishments mean a lot less when you’re in training. Remembering that you are all new and that it is your responsibility to learn will lead to a healthier dynamic with partners. Indeed, how would a partner view a first-year classmate who acts as if he knows more? Even if it takes all the restraint in the world not to interrupt when your partner is explaining something you already know, allow them to speak and be sure to ask follow-up questions that show your knowledge of the topic or issue. This is also a great opportunity to tickle their egos because we all know that lawyers rarely miss an opportunity to show off their knowledge.
Likewise, it is important not to treat any task as less than you. Start excelling at your assigned tasks to demonstrate your abilities and build confidence. You’ll soon start to see more high-level missions coming your way. With that in mind, avoid reinventing the wheel by strictly following the samples available to you. Partners want to see their work reflected back to them because they are likely to be special and want things a certain way. If you do not, this may be seen as a refusal of the partner’s work. However, within this framework, feel free to show your abilities. Taking the time to study and follow other people’s techniques will allow you to find your likes and dislikes. If you work with multiple partners, draw on the best in each of them, and use that as a basis for developing your own unique style.
Ask questions and show interest
The partners want to see a partner who is interested in the work the firm does and understands the business model in which the lawyers operate. The best way to show interest is to ask questions and be proactive. In order to ask good questions, it is important to research and identify problems. You also shouldn’t wait for a partner to come to you to give you directions if you already know what to do next. Instead, consult with your partner and ask if you can start working on the next step.
One of the basic skills taught in law school, if not the most, is problem-solving. Applying these skills in a training environment can lead to great point-scoring opportunities with partners. For example, when you are reviewing the opposing party’s discovery responses, and you notice that the answer to one of the cross-examinations appears inconsistent with the statement made in the previous argument. Bring this to your partner’s attention because you may have just discovered something that could change the direction of the affair. Or you review the opposing party’s proposed modifications to the terms sheet and notice that the terminology is inconsistent with what the parties have discussed verbally. Even if you aren’t sure about the significance of the inconsistencies, bring them to your partner’s attention because you may have just discovered something that could have major implications. Even if it turns out to be benign, you’ve at least shown that you’re engaged and interested. They will start to trust you more and more.
Be available, but set boundaries
Partners need to know that they can count on you when the time comes, so making yourself available to them is essential. If you need work, announce it; Don’t wait for it to come to you. If you’re a litigant, keep court-appropriate clothing on hand in case someone asks you to cover a last-minute court appearance. Also, when a partner needs someone to take the place of a court appearance, be the first to volunteer. These are simple actions that will go a long way to establishing your reliability.
Meanwhile, set your limits and avoid people-pleasing. If you’re overwhelmed with work, and your partner asks if you could take on another task, talk to them. Let them know what’s going on, and you might be surprised at how much they understand. This way, you’ll save yourself the stress of taking on more work and worrying when you can’t meet a deadline you agreed to just because you don’t want to let them down right now.
The members of the Young Lawyer editorial board are: Jeremy Abay, Adisola Adegbesan, Lee Ann Benson (Chair); Rafael Castro, Degene Davis, Kirsty DeGroot, Shintan Desai, Sarah Dooley, Danielle Dwyer, Kyle Garabedian, Melissa Hazel Davis, Jamie Envirera, Megan Kelleher, Anthony Knapp, Benjamin Lyman, Monica Mathias, Leslie Minora, Shane Simon, David Singh, Lea . Tedford and Zachary Torres-Fowler.