Each year, aspiring attorneys graduate from law schools across the nation and enter the exciting – and challenging – world of the legal profession.
Having been there myself, I know the feeling of being a new graduate or a new associate. We’ve all been there – from the newest rookie attorney to the most experienced senior partner. And we’ve all learned a lot along the way.
To help you hit the ground running and benefit from the lessons learned by those who have gone before you, here are some pieces of advice I have found useful throughout my career, especially when I was a newly-minted attorney just starting out.
Immerse Yourself in Your Craft
Law school does a great job of preparing us to be attorneys, but it can’t possibly teach us everything we’ll need to know – it only gives us a foundation. The only way to build on that foundation is through real-world experience.
I encourage you to dedicate yourself to really learning your craft as a legal professional. Read everything you can. Ask questions and have deep discussions with your more experienced colleagues. Be curious. Study, study, and study some more. Education didn’t end when you received your degree; it will be something you will continue throughout your entire career if you want to be an exceptional lawyer.
Begin the path to mastering your profession now, and in time, you’ll become a superb attorney and an invaluable asset to your clients.
Network and Stay in Touch
Graduation day shouldn’t be the last time you talk to your law school classmates. Instead, you should continue to foster the relationships you built during law school and use them to help you develop professionally and personally.
Stay in contact. Social media and email are great ways to do this. If you’re in their neck of the woods, stop by and say hey and invite them to do the same. Over the years to come, you will need a network of people to depend on and consult, and your classmates are a great start.
Don’t be afraid to network with others in your area, either. Meet up with other attorneys and start building connections. Seek out opportunities to get involved in your local and state bar associations. Get to know your clients and create solid relationships with them. This not only helps you develop as an attorney; it also helps you create contacts that could result in referrals and new clients.
Manage Your Time Strategically
Time management is a vital part of being a successful attorney. Here’s the truth: you’re going to be busy. Very busy. And you won’t just be busy with case work, either; you’ll have a lot of obligations to fulfill within your firm and within your community.
Strategically managing your time means two things:
- Developing a system that keeps you on track and organized; and
- Pacing yourself.
You’ve probably developed your own system for the first one, but the second one is what many new lawyers don’t do (and some never learn to do). You have to pace yourself. You’ll be working many long hours, yet you’ll also be expected to be noticed in the community. You’ll probably want to contribute your time to charities, junior boards, networking organizations, and the like.
If you don’t pace yourself, you’ll burn out. It happens all the time to attorneys who take on more than they can handle. Choose your out-of-office obligations carefully and wisely and make sure to reserve some down time for yourself.
Understand How Your Firm Is a Team
The legal profession isn’t an individual endeavor. It’s a team effort. You’ll have to depend on your partners and your fellow associates, but you’ll also need loads of help from the firm’s support staff.
The paralegals, administrators, and other members of the firm’s team who help you do your job virtually all have much more experience in the legal field than you do. Treat them disrespectfully, neglect them, or fail to take advantage of their knowledge and talents at your peril.
Constantly Remember Why
Finally, the best piece of advice I can give is very simple: constantly remember why.
Remind yourself of why you decided to become a lawyer. Of all the professions you could’ve chosen, you chose the law. Why? There will be hard days and long weeks where you’ll forget the why and lose motivation. During those moments, it always helps to refocus and concentrate on the purpose you saw for yourself when you applied to law school.
Being an attorney is challenging, yet rewarding. Get your career off to a great start by following the advice of those who have gone before you and learned things the hard way, so you can avoid their mistakes.
And above all, try to have as much fun as you can.