Dos and Don’ts for a New Attorney
You have a new job! Yay! I remember how exciting it is to start a new job (and what a relief it is to not have to keep job-searching!). If this is your first job as an attorney, it’s especially exciting because this is the place where you will learn what type of attorney you will become—and I don’t just mean what practice area you’ll focus on, but rather this where you’ll sharpen skills you don’t even know you have. And even more exciting, as a baby shark, this is where you’ll gain a sense of what type of cases/facts/and clients get you smelling blood in the water (gross). I know the shark analogy is mostly used for big law attorneys, but I think there’s shark in all of us in terms of what sets off our need to fight for justice (and then, win, obvi). So yay for new beginnings!
There is so much to learn when you first start, that we often aren’t thinking about our reputation beyond first impressions. But first impressions are fleeting, they are important for sure, but in a day-to-day capacity, it’s the frequent interactions that set the stage on how coworkers and higher-ups view you. Unfortunately, that means there are many small (and large) ways where you may make mistakes that impact your image. What are some mistakes to avoid as a new attorney?
One. Don’t be Goldilocks. When it comes to talking, you don’t want to do too much or too little. At meetings, don’t talk too much. I want to be blunt here because it can be annoying to hear a new attorney, with little experience, that is just talking to repeat what someone else said or seems to only want to hear their own voice. I think this stems from nerves and a desire to not seem like you don’t know what you’re doing. But the truth is, you may not know what’s being asked—and that’s ok! So don’t feel like you need to add to every single conversation because you don’t. At the same time, don’t just sit there! It’s not necessary to make a comment about everything, but do listen actively and ask pertinent questions, etc. You may stumble in finding a balance—that’s ok! The important thing is to not let your nerves hinder you from being a useful participant in your team’s discussions.
Two. Don’t be Jack Johnson. You can’t just sit, wait (and wish) for direction all the time. Work may be slow at first because everyone is busy, but take initiative and try to be proactive. Seek out ways to help, seek out instruction, ask for follow-ups if your first emails are ignored, and if you really are just sitting with nothing to do, don’t just cruise online (all the time), take some time to read practice guides or the latest cases so you’re up to date on your issues.
Three. Don’t be a Nervous Nelly.–btw I’m so annoyed that I went these route of cutesy names here, but I’m not editing lol. As a new attorney, nerves are your main enemy. You may feel like you’re not ready to speak in court, take on a big case, meet with a client, write an important brief, etc. Being nervous when you’re new, is good. It means you understand what’s at stake and that you are able to gauge your abilities. But the only real way you can prepare for this hands-on work is to do it. Take on the task, prepare like hell, and then hit a home run (almost) every time. So, yes, you may be nervous to help with a difficult case or work with a demanding senior associate, but just because you’re nervous doesn’t mean you’re not capable. You are capable. You just need to take a deep breath and make a plan of action.
Four. Don’t be oblivious (I give up on the dumb name schtick). Don’t be oblivious to office culture; pick up the cues and abide by the norms. This is more about your behavior with coworkers than clients, but this is important. The way you’re viewed in the office by colleagues can/will impact your career. It will make a difference in whether old coworkers are willing to make connections for you when you’re looking for new opportunities and it will impact your day to day quality of life at the office. I’m not making it up when I say how you interact socially/professionally with your coworkers matter. Being socially aware/appropriate makes a difference in how you’re perceived and opportunities that may come your way. Don’t cut off those opportunities simply because you don’t want take the time to see how your office really runs.
Ultimately your goal is to show those that may one day be mentors, sponsors, and your co-counsel that you are willing to learn, eager to grow, and that you understand that big picture—that it’s about the firm/clients, not just your own growth. Avoiding these common mistakes will help show how serious you are about your career and the advancement of your firm’s goals. Win-win.