As a new lawyer, one of your first tasks will be to secure the respect and confidence of the attorney to whom you report. Although all new attorneys are bound to make certain mistakes during the first few months of practice, there are certain offenses that cannot be blamed on the new-admit learning curve. Below is a brief list of practices to avoid when working with your supervising attorney. Any junior attorney that commits these acts is bound to incur the wrath of his or her supervisor (and will eventually be escorted to the door).
- Ask a question (legal or factual) without first trying to obtain the answer yourself. Apart from being a waste of his or her time (which is more valuable than yours), constantly resorting to your supervising attorney for these matters will only perpetuate your dependence. Using your supervising attorney as a crutch will prevent you from learning how to manage cases independently.
- Complain about your billable hours (or lack thereof).
For better or worse, billable hours will likely be a part of your new life as an attorney. If after time you're unable to successfully transition to the billable-hour lifestyle, you should consider pursuing a legal career that doesn't require billable hours. In the meantime, save your co-workers your complaints about the system.
- Always agree with your supervising attorney's analysis, even if you think he or she is wrong.
Using your independent judgment, and having the courage to voice it to your superior, will earn his or her respect. More importantly, the client will ultimately receive better representation.
- Order the paralegal around.
Your three years in law school cannot compete with a paralegal's thirty years of actual experience. Your supervising attorney thinks the paralegal knows more than you, and he's right.
- Enshure that your wurk produckt contains typos and grammatical errors.
Bonus points if the document is going to court or, better yet, a client. Read, revise, and then read again. There is no excuse for these mistakes.
- Pretend that you know the answer to a legal question, when you don't.
In addition to losing your supervising attorney's respect, committing this offense could jeopardize your client and the firm.
- Make a mistake and then don't tell anyone about it.
You will make mistakes throughout your career. Your task is to learn from them, avoid repeating them in the future, and to immediately notify your supervising attorney of the situation if and when it arises.
- Blindly copy and paste someone else's work in order to complete your project.
Certain projects might be more efficiently completed by referring to the firm's prior work product, brief bank, etc. However, no two cases are identical, and the copy and paste habit will often cause the quality of your final product to suffer. Ensure that you tailor your project to reflect the differences that exist between the two cases, and devote the time and care into the project that it requires.
- Delegate the projects you receive to someone else.
The assignment was given to you for a reason. Sending it to someone else is unacceptable, and it will give you a reputation for being lazy.
- Don't have a personal life outside of the office.
If the only thing you talk about with your co-workers relates to your caseload, you're probably both overworked and boring. Despite our profession's unspoken encouragement of the workaholic lifestyle, nobody likes a single-faceted employee. Go get a hobby.
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About the Author
Kerry Franich is a litigation associate at Pite Duncan, LLP, where he represents financial institutions and foreclosure trustees. He resides in Ladera Ranch, California with his wife and daughter.
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