One of things I realized as a newly minted attorney is that for all the scholarly thinking and legal memo writing that I learned in law school, what it didn’t teach me was how to actually be a practicing attorney. Practicing at a firm can be as foreign as the first time you went to a law school class and were asked to recite the facts of a case. Set forth below are some useful tips to keep in mind on your journey ahead as a newly minted attorney:
The reality is, as a new attorney, the learning curve is steep. You will be asked to do things that you haven’t done before, whether doing research on a discrete (and often esoteric) issue, reviewing contracts for key provisions or drafting simple agreements. And guess what? The senior attorneys or partners that you are working with know that you are new, inexperienced and may have not have done this before. Use this to your advantage and ask questions when you are unsure about something. It’s your job to get educated, but no one expects you to know everything (or much of anything) when you are just starting out.
Don’t Be A Know It All
Related to the first point, since you are new and probably lack the knowledge base, don’t pretend to know the answer. On the off chance that a client asks you a question about something, it is totally fine to say “Let me discuss with [insert partner’s name] and get back to you” rather than making up an answer off the cuff. Similarly, if a partner or senior associate asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it is fine to say “Let me look into that and get back to you.” Once you get the answer, be sure to touch base promptly.
As a junior attorney, you will be responsible for managing documents, case files etc. It is really important for you to be organized as more senior attorneys will expect you to pull documents when asked. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t know where a key document or email is.
Punctuality & Responsiveness
If you are supposed to attend a meeting and it starts at 2:00 p.m., you should be there at 1:55 p.m latest. Punctuality is very important and if you think you will be late, email others on your team attending the meeting and let them know. Similarly, being responsive is equally important. Pick up your calls and respond to emails promptly. The reason these two traits are so important is because these qualities develop a sense of dependability and trust with the more senior associates, which is key when it comes to your long term success at a firm. A lack of punctuality or responsiveness, often implies a level disinterest (whether true or not), which you want to avoid.
At times, you can be slow at work. That’s just the reality of working at a firm. However, when you are slow, it is an opportunity to add value in some other way. For example, there could be a new law that just passed or a case that clarified an interpretation of an existing law, which would benefit the firm’s clients. Offer to research and write an article on the subject.