How to Survive Your First Year as a Lawyer
There’s a lot of pressure to say yes to everything, but burn-out is not what anybody wants for you
Ever notice that the most prestigious professions seem to start out with a bang? The bang being in the form of an infamous time period where it’s all about showing you’ve got the right stuff. Lawyers certainly go through something like this.
The first year is supposedly what’s going to make or break you. It’s all about doing the right things and being in the right places with the right people. Every successful lawyer has his or her own collection of “first-year” stories. Distill them down and they provide common tips on how to land on your feet and get a great review when you hit your anniversary mark.
Learn to be okay with not feeling secure
You graduated. Then you passed the bar exam. But, guess what? All you’ve got at this starting-out point is a lot of knowledge. You haven’t applied it much. The application comes with time and experience. In the meantime, you will be far more respected for understanding what you don’t know and asking for guidance than proceeding and possibly jeopardizing a case – which will jeopardize your burgeoning career.
Briefs have formats. It’s crucial that these formats are followed. After all, you’re presenting information that has to be consumed, referenced, and compared. Don’t follow your own layout or design preferences with written documents. Does the punctuation go inside or outside of the quotation mark? Now you’re moving past form, and it might be time to stop and think about what’s important. Pay attention to the substance of your communication. Let your word processing software keep track of the format.
Pay attention to the timing cycle of your mentors
The right mentors can make all the difference during your first year as a lawyer. And while it might feel as if a mentor with decades of experience can offer you the best advice, you may discover that a mentor who is just a step or two ahead of you can be a better choice. What you’re going through is still fresh in their mind.
Make paralegals and legal assistants your new best friends
Let’s be honest. Who really does the grunt work? Who really knows the inner workings and the politics of the firm? Who often doesn’t even have to pause and think about it in order to advise you on who to talk to when you need something for a case? These employees are often overworked and underappreciated, and often they have some of the highest seniority in the office. Approach your relationships with these support professionals with care. They have it in their power to help you succeed.
Don’t expect anyone to set your boundaries
This is the year you prove yourself, right? You unfurl your sails and take on as much as you can to show the decision-makers you’ve got the bandwidth. There’s a lot of pressure to say yes to everything. Keep in mind that the people you’re trying to impress are also watching and gauging your ability to say no. Burn-out is not what anybody wants for you.
Take advantage of life hacks
If you want to be judged well at the end of your first year, you’ve got to optimize your output by minimizing the amount of work you put into everything else. You’re probably dealing with the reality of paying off student loans, but don’t discount the return on investment in using a professional laundry service or having a house cleaner. This money spent outsourcing activities that detract from a focus on your job is money well invested—even if it’s just to help you get a few extra hours of downtime.
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