Your first year as a law firm associate will be challenging. Not only will you have to adjust to your firm’s culture, but you will also work on legal matters that may be completely foreign to you.
“There are no shortcuts to becoming an effective, respected lawyer. Ultimately, the only way to improve significantly is through experience. If you want to get better at taking depositions or negotiating contracts, take more depositions and negotiate more contracts. Seek out these experiences; do not avoid them,” writes Professor Benjamin C. Carpenter of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
Instead of getting discouraged about the challenges that lie ahead, view them as opportunities for growth. That way, you can position yourself to add value to law partners, colleagues, and the firm.
Looking for tips to help you thrive as a first-year law associate? Here are 10 tips you can implement today.
1. Check your ego at the door.
Whether you graduated from an Ivy League law school or a mid-tier university, there will be a learning curve. You shouldn’t let your law school pedigree trick you into believing that you don’t have to work as hard as others. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves, take direction and get to work.
2. Develop a reputation as a problem solver.
You were hired to solve problems for your firm’s partners and clients. Even if you don’t get everything right, continue to take on projects that sharpen your problem-solving skills. When senior attorneys recognize you as an attorney who solves problems and gets things done, they will entrust you with more projects.
3. Take full responsibility for your work – the good and the bad.
Making mistakes is inevitable. When this happens, promptly take responsibility for your mistakes, offer an apology without excuses, and work to fix the situation. Be sure to learn from the mistake and not make it again. Remember mistakes are made for learning – not repeating.
4. Don’t take feedback personally.
Constructive feedback is supposed to make you better – not bitter. When you receive unfavorable feedback from a boss or colleague, use it to improve your skills. Handle all feedback with grace and humility. In most instances, it’s not meant to be a personal attack against your character. Feedback is simply a tool to let you know how you are progressing.
5. Find a mentor (or two).
Seek out a law mentor who has been where you are and one who is where you want to go. Mentors can help you navigate your legal career, set goals, and see the big picture. Working with a mentor helps you become aware of your blind spots and gives you a blueprint for success. In addition, you can benefit from learning from your mentor’s achievements and mistakes.
6. Prioritize stress management.
It’s common for first-year associates to work 60 – 80 hours per week. When you add your personal responsibilities to the mix, your life can become stressful and hectic. That’s why you must find ways to manage your stress to prevent burnout. Effective stress management techniques include taking short breaks throughout the day, running, walking, swimming, yoga, deep breathing, and listening to soft music.
7. Set goals and create benchmarks for achieving them.
What do you want to accomplish in your legal career? Think about your long and short-term goals and write them down. Document the actions that you will need to take to achieve them. Work on your goals each day. Be sure to create benchmarks to help you track your progress.
8. Develop lifelong learning habits.
As a lawyer, you should be constantly learning about different areas of the law and best practices when serving clients. These include case law, client data, and new projects. Law school may be over, but that doesn’t mean you should leave the good study habits that you’ve developed behind.
9. Realize that your first year is a transition period.
It can take a few months to get adjusted to your transition from a law student to a new attorney. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t gotten it all together. A transition period can be awkward, but it is also a time of growth and development.
10. Engage in projects and interests outside of work.
Being the best law associate requires effort and dedication. But this doesn’t mean that you should devote every waking hour to your job. Get involved with hobbies and activities that you enjoy. Leisure activities and personal pursuits will take your mind off the job and give you something to look forward to.
Final Thoughts: Take the Long View Approach in Your Career
“Finally, you may find that your first job is not what you had hoped for,” writes Professor Carpenter. “Indeed, few people retire from the same employer they start their career with. Don’t let this effect your effort, though. Approach your work as though it is your dream job. Build strong relationships, acquire as much experience as possible, seek out more responsibility and set yourself up for the future.”
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