Legal Practice

Adjusting to Work as a New Lawyer

First, if you’re new a attorney—whether you just received your law license or are awaiting bar exam results, CONGRATS! That is such an exciting time and not to be dramatic but this marks the beginning of your career as a lawyer and how you’ll participate with your local legal community—the possibilities are endless!

But it may not feel that way as you get used to process of being a lawyer; the day to day stuff that can be a little tedious, plus possibly adjusting to a new work/office culture as well. Oh! And add loan payments but also substantial paychecks that you also have to learn how to manage—especially for those #TeamNoGapYear who went straight to law school after undergrad. This was me, so after law school I wasn’t just adjusting to my new job as a lawyer but also my only job in a “professional” setting… It’s a lot and it’s a balance!

When you begin you may find that it’s less of a balance and more like a see-saw that you’re not so sure about. There will be moments of loss when you may question your ability and other moments where you totally own it. That is totally normal and having questions, moments of confusion, or just lack of knowledge is part of the process. Eventually you will feel more settled and if you push yourself to grow, then one day you’ll look up and you’ll be the one giving advice to the newbies.

You can push yourself to grow by setting goals and metrics for yourself—they don’t have to be monumental, just areas where you want to get better. This should include your executive presence as well—how do you speak in meetings? at presentations? How reliable are you? Do you dress the part? Those are small things new attorneys can focus on to give yourself a little extra polish as you learn the ropes. But you can also focus on bigger goals related to your practice area or lawyering skills. If you feel you’re lacking in certain areas then go the extra mile and try to beef up in that topic via CLEs or other research.

The other thing I encourage is for you to literally track your wins. Save emails that praise you, notes from clients, keep track of your experience (i.e. defended a deposition) as much as possible. Not only is it good for your own awareness and self-esteem to see that others value your contribution, but keep track of your progress in certain skills can help you when it’s time to advocate for a raise or you start looking for lateral changes. I literally had interviews where I was asked to list how many depositions I’d ever done, so it’s useful to have the info down to the number when you can.

Of course, you can do all of this and still feel uncertain about what you’re doing. The first few months may be like that and if you’re not in an environment that provides appropriate training, orientation, and support you may be even more on your own to adjust as a new attorney. In those situations, if you have a trusted coworker that can offer guidance you should try to connect with them on questions or issues.

If you’re at a firm that offers support and programming for new attorneys—congrats, that is such a great resource available to you. But many will have to do without and will need to figure out how to adjust to an environment where you are just another colleague along with others, who is responsible for cases like everyone else, and who has to develop insights and skills to provide appropriate advice with confidence. Keep reminding yourself that it is normal to feel unsure but you have tons of examples in your past of incidents where you were unsure but figured it out. You can do that here too and when you approach your career with real intent you will get to enjoy so much more of your career.