A Year Later: What I Can Do Better As A Lawyer

About one year ago I joined my current firm. I came to the firm not knowing how I would adjust after working for the government for more than three years. Now that the year is over, I thought I would note some of the lessons I’ve learned.

First, I think the best thing you can do when you start a new job is to trust and rely on your colleagues. Too many lawyers feel that they know it all. But we all need help when we begin a new position. Certain jobs have a certain way of doing things, and there is no way you’ll know how to do everything. Whether it is conforming to particular billing procedures or how your firm writes internal emails, you will need to ask questions. I believe that you should feel comfortable asking as many questions as possible because the sooner you learn how to do things correctly, the sooner you will be able to be more productive.

Second, if I could redo my first year at my job, I would own my cases more. Showing up at firm and getting handed a book of cases is difficult. But over time, as you become used to the clients and the case fact patterns, you should take an active role in running your cases. It’s easy to rely on your supervisors to make the big (and small) decisions for you. But then you aren’t really growing as a lawyer. I think that making all the decisions on your cases will help grow your confidence and will increase your standing among your colleagues. Too often I felt that I had to ask my supervisors what they thought or what they would do. I now know that if I do make a mistake, they will be there to counsel and correct me. But you are not going to learn to be a better lawyer without making some mistakes along the way.

Third, it’s particularly important to appreciate and utilize your support system at your job. When I started a year ago, I preferred to do everything myself. I didn’t use the paralegals and other support staff at the firm because I was afraid a mistake would be made. But, I quickly learned that you need to trust your support staff. There is way too much to do during the day to do everything yourself. As the year went on, I began to rely on the support staff more and realized how talented and dedicated they are. To that end, you should always convey how you appreciate the work that the support staff does by thanking them regularly and treating them with the respect they deserve.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to challenge the norms at your job. Now that I have been at my firm for a year, I have decided that I should have the confidence to challenge the way things are done if I think they are not being done correctly or efficiently. If you simply accept how things are done and don’t challenge the norms, neither you nor the firm will grow and adapt. The confidence to challenge the norms will come over time, but when you feel ready, you should be able to go to a supervisor and convey your ideas.

Fifth, I believe that after a year at a new position you should make a plan for your growth as a lawyer and at your job. Don’t rest on your laurels! Lawyers need to keep learning and growing as their careers progress. Also, you should plan for how you are going to progress at your current firm or position. No one wants to be a junior associate as an entire career. Start planning how to maximize your potential at your current job.

Finally, it’s very important to recharge your batteries. Whether it’s an early night after a busy week or taking a full vacation, you need time for yourself. No one can go nonstop. If you do, your work will suffer. An overtired lawyer is not a productive lawyer.

After a year at a new job, you should always evaluate how you are doing and go over the lessons you have learned. It’s good to reflect on yourself and your job. Hopefully, this article will help you do so.

Peter S. Garnett is an attorney at Balestriere Fariello who represents clients in trials, arbitrations, and appeals. He focuses his practice on complex commercial litigation and contract disputes from pre-filing investigations to trial and appeals. You can reach Peter at peter.s.garnett@balestrierefariello.com.

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