As young lawyers, it is important to develop good habits early and practice them often. After all, it is far easier to learn good habits from the beginning than to try and unlearn bad habits later on. The following is a list of eight simple rules that new lawyers can follow early in their careers to ensure future success:
1. Learn to scan, fax, and e-file on your own. As a young lawyer, it will often fall on you to burn the midnight oil to get a project done, and you may not have the help of your assistant at 11 pm the day before a deadline. Knowing how to do these basic tasks yourself can be a lifesaver. Further, many partners don’t know how to perform these tasks themselves, so you can use these moments to showcase your resourcefulness and develop a reputation as someone who can get things done. Another helpful skill is learning to make the coffee in your office. It may sound silly, but it really shows other attorneys, and especially staff, that you are a team player in all circumstances.
2. Go see partners in person rather than e-mail or call. Although e-mailing may seem like a simpler way to communicate—especially to a generation of lawyers who are adept at communicating through social media—make every effort to speak to partners in person. This is an important part of developing relationships with the partners you work with, and it can also prevent misinterpretation or an embarrassing typo (more on that later). After a few in-person visits, you will become more comfortable speaking with partners and may find working with them becomes easier.
3. Don’t use speakerphone. Have you ever called someone on the telephone and they spoke to you on speakerphone? How did that make you feel? Using speakerphone may seem like a great way to multitask, but it could also send the wrong message—especially when speaking to a partner or a client. It can also be distracting if the other person hears you typing in the background, and it may seem like you’re not giving that person your full attention. If you do have to use speakerphone, it’s good practice to apologize to the person on the other end of the call, and be sure to give them a good excuse why they are on speakerphone (i.e., there is someone else sitting in your office that is participating on the call). In addition, if you do end up talking on speakerphone, remember to close your office door. You do not want to annoy your colleagues outside your office, and you most certainly do not want to risk inadvertently disclosing any attorney-client privileged communications.
4. Read e-mails three times out loud before sending them if you can. Many of us send far too many e-mails to do this every time; but, for e-mails you expect to be widely distributed, or those going to partners or clients, following this rule can be a lifesaver. Nothing is more embarrassing than hitting send and realizing you left out a word, addressed an e-mail to the wrong person, or forgot to attach a document. Reading an e-mail out loud three times before you send it should catch these errors. Remember, spell check only catches typos and not misplaced or missing words.
5. Don’t procrastinate; do a little bit every day. Sometimes it’s hard to put in that extra hour on a major project at the end of a long day, but resist the urge to put things off until tomorrow. Procrastinating as a young lawyer is a dangerous gamble, and even if you think you’ve built in enough time, you never know when the next emergency assignment is going to come up. A single late assignment or piece of low-quality work product can be enough to sour a partner or client, so be sure to work on your assignments every day and give yourself enough time to turn in quality work product.
6. Bounce ideas off of more senior young lawyers in your firm. As a young lawyer, we may not always be sure that our plan for a case is the best one. Be sure to talk to more senior young lawyers at your firm about your cases. You may find that you can get some great ideas from them. This is especially true if you are working for a particular partner for the first time or in a new area of the law. Remember that a “stupid question” is not at all stupid to a more senior young lawyer who only recently has been in your shoes. Just be sure to be mindful of where you have these conversations so you don’t inadvertently disclose confidential information or compromise the attorney client-privilege. An elevator or a crowded restaurant is never a good place to have these conversations.
7. Make it a point to clean your office regularly. As attorneys, our work necessarily involves paper, and lots of it. It’s very easy to begin to accumulate various documents from different assignments, and before you know it your desk can literally be covered end to end by paper. Make it a point to come in on a weekend or stay late during the week to organize and clean your office. A clean and organized workspace goes a long way to having an organized and productive practice. At a minimum, go through your files and documents once a quarter to dispose of documents that are no longer needed. Just be sure to properly dispose of any confidential information to prevent any accidental disclosure of sensitive or privileged information.
8. Find a mentor, be a mentor. For a young lawyer, this may be the most important item on this list. Whether the person is a senior associate, partner, or even someone outside of your firm, it is very important to find someone who can act as your formal or even informal mentor. Your mentor should help guide you in your career path and help you get through the rough patches. It is also very important to be a mentor as time goes on. You may not think you’re ready to be a mentor to another attorney; but, you may be surprised at just how helpful the lessons you’ve learned so far on your journey can be to someone who is even just one year behind you in practicing law.
Michael D. Redondo is an associate in the Miami office of Holland & Knight LLP, who practices in the area of commercial and securities litigation. He is a member of the ABA YLD Minorities in the Profession Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.