Young attorneys often wonder what steps can be taken in the first few years of practice to increase their chances of achieving long-term success in the legal profession. TYL recently had the opportunity to ask two prominent attorneys, Wallace L. Schwartz and Jay Kasner, both partners at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager & Flom LLP, for their responses to several questions with the hopes of eliciting advice for young attorneys striving for such success. Mr. Schwartz is the head of Skadden’s New York office and Skadden’s international Real Estate Group and also serves on the firm’s associate development committee. Mr. Kasner specializes in securities, corporate defense, and complex business dispute litigation. Mr. Schwartz’s and Mr. Kasner’s responses provide invaluable insight into how young attorneys should approach the practice of law.
TYL: What is the one writing tip or oral advocacy tip every young lawyer should know?
Kasner: It’s really hard to single out just one. However, an oral advocate, above all, must listen to the judge. Pay close attention to how your arguments are being received and respond directly and clearly to the questions you are asked. Also, pay attention to what your adversary is saying and consider how to answer those points that seem to be having an impact.
Additionally, young lawyers should always seek constructive criticism and feedback on oral advocacy skills from more seasoned lawyers whom they trust and respect.
Schwartz: You’re not in law school anymore, so the purpose of writing is no longer to spot issues and discuss them. Your clients are looking to you for answers. The purpose of your writing now is to advise and assist clients in making decisions and achieving particular goals. Accordingly, your writing and oral advocacy should provide specific conclusions that will help the client to this end.
TYL: What is a predominant characteristic of attorneys whom you admire?
Schwartz: The predominant characteristic of attorneys whom I admire is integrity. It is integrity that makes them give their best on their client’s behalf. It is integrity that makes them treat their colleagues with respect. And it is integrity that makes them accomplish all this while maintaining the highest ethical standards.
TYL: What is one piece of advice you wish you had during your first few years after law school?
Schwartz: Be on the lookout for a mentor. It is difficult to achieve success in any organization, such as a law firm, or in any career, without a senior person to act as your teacher, advisor, and advocate. Mentorship is a two-way street, with the junior person in the relationship providing hard work and diligent assistance to the senior person who is providing the mentoring. It does not necessarily happen immediately out of law school, and it does not necessarily happen with a mentor formally assigned to you by your firm. But it is never too soon to be on the lookout for the person who could be your mentor.
TYL: How should young lawyers approach the practice of law?
Kasner: Having uncompromised ethical standards will serve you best for the long haul. Strive for excellence in the work product you produce.
Also, treat your clients, adversaries, peers, and subordinates with the utmost respect—you will find over the course of your career that your reputation usually precedes you.
Schwartz: Approach the practice of law as you would approach anything in which you hope to achieve success. Approach it with dedication and enthusiasm. The practice of law is your career, and it is your responsibility to develop your career. This means taking the time and effort to learn as much as you can about what you’ve been asked to work on, seeking advice and feedback from those with whom you are working, and communicating with your colleagues to let them know of your goals and aspirations. The practice of law involves working with your colleagues to help your clients. When approached with dedication and enthusiasm, it can be challenging, rewarding, and enjoyable.