Congratulations! You’ve done it. You graduated from law school, and you’ve passed the bar! Some of your most grueling years are behind you and you can officially say adios to the dreaded Socratic Method. You may even have already landed your first job as an attorney. If so - congrats! And, if not, don’t worry. Good things come to those who wait, and your next opportunity is likely right around the corner.
Whatever your new (or future) job is, you’ll want to be sure to make a good impression from day one. In order to help you on your journey, we’ve compiled the top five tips to help you succeed as a new lawyer. These tips will benefit you whether you’re at a nonprofit, government agency, or law firm. Take heed and good luck. We’re rooting for you!
Be punctual. Here’s the #1 Golden Rule: arrive to work on time (or early if you can). It’s true that your boss might stroll into the office somewhere between 10 or 11 am. But that doesn’t mean you can. Show your supervisors that you’re reliable and motivated. Nobody wants to work with someone who can’t be trusted to get to that important client meeting or motion hearing on time.
Pay attention to detail. Triple check your work. Your supervisors are assessing your writing chops for the first time. Make sure the first memo you deliver is free of typos, spelling errors, and improper citations. You don’t want anyone thinking you rushed through the job, or worse yet, worrying that your research is sloppy.
Be receptive to feedback. Receiving constructive criticism is a good thing. Even if you aced all your exams in law school, everyone benefits from critical feedback. A good supervisor will mentor you and offer suggestions on how you can improve your writing and your legal arguments. Take it as a sign that they’re interested in you and invested in your success. Don’t push back on any feedback you get. Learn from it and implement it in your next assignment. Even if you don’t agree, remain polite and professional at all times.
Be a fly on the wall. Observing attorneys in action is one of the best ways to learn how to practice. Jump on the chance to attend any kind of event with senior attorneys in the office. Watch them in action at mediations, depositions, client interviews, motions, settlement conferences, etc. It’ll be a lot of fun and you’ll learn much more than you ever would sitting in the office.
Find a mentor. Many employers now have established mentorship programs. Whether your employer has a mentorship program or not, it’s important to find a senior attorney you can connect with who can show you the ropes and offer meaningful advice. Try to identify what you’re most interested in and then look for a senior attorney in that field. Ask them if you can tag along for any meetings they might have, or if there are any upcoming assignments you can help with. Usually, they’ll be honored that you asked and will welcome your offer to assist. Don’t be afraid to ask questions either (just make sure to get the timing right - e.g. don’t interrupt your senior partner for a question when she’s in the middle of deposing her key witness).
These five tips are sure to put you on the path to success, but nothing will replace good old-fashioned hard work. Do you have additional tips to share? Feel free to comment below!
Angelica Cesario is Lawline's Lead Program Attorney. She graduated cum laude from Amherst College in 2008 and holds a B.A. in Women's and Gender Studies and a Certificate in Latino and Latin American Studies. She received her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2013 and is admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey. Before joining Lawline, Angelica worked as a plaintiff-side labor & employment litigation attorney. Outside of work, Angelica serves on the Board of Directors of the TEAK Fellowship, a non-profit academic and cultural enrichment program that provides educational access to top NYC students. Angelica is the proud mom of an energetic toddler. During her free time, she enjoys reading, trying new foods, and catching up on her favorite TV shows.