Adjusting to Office Work: What Every First Gen Needs to Know
As summer is getting closer and closer, I’m thinking a lot about my summer experiences in law school. My 1L summer was also the first long-term exposure I had a professional/office setting and I’m so grateful it was in a small social service agency, focused on Latino community because it let me “ease in” to those office standards and it didn’t feel so jarring. Looking back at my other experience, I do think one reason I always felt out of place in the other internships—and thus, didn’t really make the most of my experiences—was because I felt like I was playing a role of a professional rather than being one.
If you are like me and your time in college was most retail/customer service, or your internships were really limited, starting your first job in an office can feel…odd. The customs, the work, the standards—all of it feels new. Of course, you’ll quickly adjust (because you always do) but here are some things I wish I knew ahead of time to acclimate sooner and not feel so out of place:
One. Figure out the office culture. Each place has it’s own unique culture and standards and it’s important to assess the environment to figure out some of those unspoken expectations. Think, wearing business suits if it’s a formal setting or expectations of when the day begins/ends (not every place is 9-5, though interns do get more leniency). When you figure out the culture, you can better determine how much of it you want to participate in. Of course, in a perfect world you could be your authentic self, but it’s hard to do that as an intern—you haven’t built any good will capital and people don’t know your work product, so managing attorneys will go off your ability to follow social cues (fair or not, that is the reality).
Two. Track your own work. One big shift from my retail jobs to an office job was how much autonomy I had, even with an attentive supervisor. In a law firm, you have to track your work without depending on the managing attorney to guide you. This means that sometimes they give you assignments with far off deadlines and not all will be good at tracking or checking in with your progress. So it’s dependent on you to figure out your work, how you’ll complete it, and to raise concerns if you can’t get it done. I know this seems very straightforward, but…you’d be surprised at how often interns miss deadlines. The same goes for asking for work. Lots of attorneys aren’t thinking about what assignments to give you and if you’re not careful you’ll spend a summer with little to show for it.
Three. It’s normal to sometimes be bored. Yes, lawyering can be exciting but it’s not all trials and depositions. Being a lawyer also entails doing boring, routine, administrative work. And while a legal intern shouldn’t be stuck doing this all the time, you should expect to do some of the tasks that can feel tedious—answering pleadings? Writing contact letters? All things that lawyers do but sadly it’s not super sexy. And that’s ok—don’t think just because there are lulls that it means that this isn’t for you.
After a while, working in an office environment didn’t feel weird to me or like I was playing a role. If you find yourself feeling like the odd person out, think about what is making you feel that way and if there is something you can proactively do to feel a little more attuned to your surroundings.