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Understand the Challenges
Beginning one’s career in law is a bit like being thrown into the deep end of the pool without warning. A firm is very different from law school, and the stakes are higher. There is a steep learning curve for everyone, so if you are experiencing a lot of challenges early on, that’s completely normal. In fact, it means you’re pushing yourself, and that’s a good thing. It’s best to think of your first months as a lawyer as a time to learn and pick up the skills that will serve you well for the rest of your career. You don’t have to be the best right away; you just have to lay the groundwork to build steadily on your experience. We’ve put together a few pieces of advice to help you on your way to realizing your potential.
Build Your Own Value
Take initiative in your work, with the mindset that you are self-employed, and that everyone you interact with is in some sense a client. This actually goes for senior lawyers in your firm as well as the actual clients. In time, you want the senior lawyers to find your work indispensable. You may be an associate in a firm, but you need to advance your own interests and “earn” your own work. If you have a recurring issue, do what it takes to fix it.
Prioritize clear and formal communication, both with other lawyers in your firm and with clients. When you write an email, start with a salutation like you would in a letter, write with purpose, and make sure to spell-check. Take the time to be very specific when filling out time entries, so that clients know they are getting value for their money. Speak less and say more in client meetings. Leading a client meeting takes a lot of experience, so for the first few months, listen to the senior lawyers more than you talk, and pay close attention. If someone asks you a question, answer succinctly, and remember to focus on what the outcome will be for the client. Try not to nervously over-explain how you got to your conclusion: just say what it is.
Make a specific plan for your career. Decide what steps you will take each day to improve your practice. This should include building relationships and improving your communication skills, among other goals, but everything should ultimately be directed towards building your own value. Gradually, by being proactive at every opportunity, you will gain a solid footing that will be the basis for a long, successful career.