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Things they don’t teach you in law school!
After four years as an undergrad, three years of law school, and another couple as an intern or associate, you’d think you were well equipped to be successful as an attorney. But the fact is that there are certain skills school doesn’t teach you and numerous other ways you may be unprepared to make your way in the industry. To help you navigate the career field, we’ve compiled a list of the most essential skills for success:
1. Ability to communicate well
Seems pretty simple, right? But the number of young attorneys who are able communicate well is much less than you’d imagine. Being an effective communicator has less to do with how well you’re able to speak, and more to do with how well you’re able to listen. It’s also about being able to read which clients prefer a quick phone call or email versus the ones who want a multiple-page letter outlining every detail and update in a case. Of course, the more experience you gain, the better you’ll be able to recognize and accommodate clients and their preferences. However, constantly working on communication as a whole is imperative to your success.
2. Express empathy
Although you may have been told by some well-meaning older attorneys not to get emotionally involved in any of your cases, compassion and care go a long way when it comes to serving your clients. When you think about it, people turn to you when they’re facing a difficult situation. Showing that you’re human, that you are interested, empathetic, and that you care should be part of how you operate. Detachment is a thing of the past and every young lawyer needs to understand this in order to truly be successful.
3. Time management and business acumen
Just because you’re working in a firm that has a bookkeeping and scheduling department doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to manage your calendar and the tasks at hand. A good attorney possesses the skills to plan, organize, and manage their resources and has a firm grip on how much time it will take for them to perform their job. Without it, you may likely be the lawyer who goes over budget, is always scrambling to file motions, and leaves fellow attorneys and clients frustrated.
4. Ability to collaborate
It’s common for attorneys to work on their own, and many consider themselves their own separate entity even in a small law firm. And while it is true that you will often be handling cases that are solely yours, those lawyers who are able to collaborate are more successful than those who don’t possess these skills. Collaboration brings out the best in people and helps spur ideas that result in better client outcomes. Plus, working with others and exchanging wisdom helps you grow as a lawyer.
5. Always be prepared
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re working long days and rushing around from meetings, court appearances, and back to the office. As a young attorney, a really important skill to learn as early as possible is to always be prepared. Make sure you make a to-do list every day and that you spend at least 15-20 minutes at the end of the day going over what needs to be accomplished the next day. This will help you get into the habit of staying organized and decreases the chances that you’ll be flustered in a meeting because you forgot an important document or some other detail pertinent to the case at hand.
Becoming a lawyer takes a lot of time, effort, and grit. And if you’re going to spend so many years in school and interning, it’s a good idea to hone your skills in these essential areas so you can be the best attorney possible.
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Make a strategic choice that will support your career aspirations
If you’ve finished law school, completed a few internships, and passed the bar, congratulations! And while it may seem like all the hard stuff is behind you, now is when the real work begins. The first step for many young lawyers is deciphering which law firms would be a good fit and figuring out which offer you want to accept. It’s a really big decision and not one that you should make lightly. Here are some tips on how to choose:
1. Think of your preferred practice area
As a first-year associate, it may be hard to imagine yourself practicing the same kind of law for many years to come. And if you’re not sure which area you’ll be most passionate about, it’s important to try and choose a firm that will allow you to dabble in a variety of options. While many young lawyers have decided on their choice long before they graduate, most haven’t – and that’s ok. Selecting a firm that has several areas of practice may be the best way to go.
2. Evaluate reputation
When it comes to choosing the right firm, another critical thing to consider is its reputation. It goes without saying that you want to find one that is not only well-established, but also has earned good standing in the community. Selection based on prestige may seem superficial, but in reality, it goes a long way when you’re ready to move on because other firms look at your previous employment as a key factor. Choosing a firm that can open more doors for you is a great career strategy.
3. Geography is key
Nothing is forever, of course. But just like any career, you want to think ahead when accepting a position. Some cities are more conducive to certain types of law than others. For example, New York City is a key financial hub, so if your background is in accounting, finance, or other related law, you may want to focus on firms that can get you closer to living and working in NYC. On the other hand, if your goal is to one day own your own small firm or to practice corporate law, you’ll want to be on the lookout for similar firms that can pave the way for your aspirations in your desired location.
4. Calculate what will be a promising future
While it’s important to choose an area of law that you’re passionate about, it’s likely that you may not know exactly what you want to do so early in your career. If this is the case, you may want to take a look at the market itself and see what the demand is for different types of lawyers at the moment. Things can and do change year to year according to what’s happening in the economy, but it can be exciting to choose an area of practice that is particularly hot. If you’re getting an offer from a firm that does relatively-stable, tax-related law, for example, you may want to wait and see if you get any interest from a real estate or mergers and acquisitions firm.
Knowing which offer to accept may seem daunting, especially since your first experience as a young lawyer can have a big influence on your future. Take your time, consider all of these aspects, and don’t stress it too much. Remember that you’re just starting out and most attorneys make several moves throughout their careers.
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