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June 07, 2024

Navigating the Path without Sacrificing Authenticity

Advice for New Management-Side Employment Attorneys

Catarina Colon

Embarking on a career as a management- side employment lawyer can be both challenging and rewarding. As a brand-new attorney, I personally felt overwhelmed with how to find my bearings when it came to learning my practice, figuring out logistics (like billing time), answering to several “bosses,” and balancing my career with my personal life. Now, I find myself meeting regularly with law students and early careerists to share insights on how to navigate this new world.

Master the Basics

I see many new lawyers focusing on brand building, networking, and client development, as opposed to learning the basics of their legal practice. I may have even done this myself! While all of those skills are incredibly important to develop, do not forget that you cannot successfully accomplish them without understanding the basics of your legal practice first. For management-side employment lawyers, this will include familiarizing yourself with the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other pertinent statutes, and honing your legal research and writing skills. I recommend attending CLEs related to your practice and creating thought leadership on nuanced topics. 

Build Relationships with Partners and Clients

Cultivate strong relationships with your assigning attorneys and clients. As a new associate, it might take some time before you are communicating directly with clients. You can expedite that process by gaining the trust of assigning attorneys by: (1) being responsive to project requests; (2) completing tasks in a timely manner; (3) taking ownership over projects; (4) anticipating assigning attorney needs; (5) thinking creatively; and (6) becoming invested in finding solutions for clients. I also recommend keeping track of assigning attorney preferences, such as communication preferences (calls vs. emails) and writing style preferences. Also, let your assigning attorney know that you want to understand your clients’ business objectives, company culture, and unique challenges by offering to sit in on client calls and making site visits, if and when possible.

Build Relationships with Business Professionals

Building relationships with your professional staff will serve you well for several reasons. I am fortunate to work for a full-service firm, with numerous business professionals that assist us with dayto-day operations, including paralegals, legal assistants, office services personnel, scientists, data analysts, client development specialists, and more. Without these professionals, the firm would not operate, and there will inevitably be an occasion where you will need help in a pinch and these individuals will keep you above water. Many of these professionals have been doing this work for a long time and will be able to teach you critical skills, including, for example, how to e-file a document on a Friday after business hours.

Seek Mentorship and Sponsorship

Mentorship and sponsorship play a critical role in the professional development of new attorneys. If your firm does not offer a formal mentorship program, seek out advice from attorneys who have taken a career path you would like to emulate. Even if you are formally paired with a mentor, remember there is no limit on the number of people you can learn from throughout your career. Foster those relationships that feel most authentic for you. Sponsorship remains elusive and difficult for many individuals to find. The difference between mentors and sponsors is that sponsors hold positions of power and influence and can directly provide job opportunities or lobby on others’ behalf. Hopefully, a sponsorship relationship will form naturally, but if it does not, there are ways that new attorneys can increase the likelihood of such a relationship forming. For example, you can seek advice from a senior leader within your organization and cultivate a relationship with that person. You could also become involved in firm citizenship initiatives, such as firm committees, where firm leaders are often present.

Continue Hobbies

One mistake that many new attorneys make is giving their all to this demanding profession without carving out any time to continue their pre-legal life hobbies, such as exercising, reading for pleasure, crafting, or music. Carving time out of your schedule to partake in activities that are entirely unrelated to your practice will make you a better legal professional in that it will help you avoid burnout and force you to use your brain in a totally different way than you would drafting a brief or reviewing legal documents. On more than one occasion, my most creative legal theories popped into my brain during or after a good workout or a walk outside. Also, no one wants to talk about the law all the time, including your colleagues and clients. By making time for your hobbies, you will also be a more interesting and well-rounded person—making you much more fun to be around!

Stay Authentic

Stay authentic by embracing your unique background and experiences. Just because you are an attorney does not mean you must sacrifice parts of yourself that do not fit into the traditional mold of what an attorney is “supposed” to look or act like. This can be challenging for new attorneys who want to make a good impression. Fortunately, I have never been treated any differently because of my personal style or tattoos, my outspoken personality, or for showing glimpses of my Latina culture through my office décor. If you feel like you must hide parts of your identity to be accepted by your employer or colleagues, it is quite possible you just haven’t found the right fit yet.


Embarking on this career path requires grit, a multifaceted skill set, patience, navigating challenges with grace and, at times, a good sense of humor. Work hard, master the basics, build relationships, and continue to foster other crucial skills such as legal research and writing and time management. In navigating this new world, do not lose sight of who you are outside of this profession, and make time for doing those things that you love.

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Catarina Colón

Husch Blackwell LLP

Catarina Colón is a labor and employment attorney in Husch Blackwell LLP’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin office. Catarina provides guidance on labor and employment matters during mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, and counsels clients on day-to-day employment matters, including standard policies, employee handbooks, employment agreements, severance agreements, termination, retention, recruiting, disciplinary procedures, and requests for accommodation. Catarina is also the cofounder of the firm’s Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practice group, which provides guidance on the intersection of DEI best practices and civil rights laws, and also provides clients with risk assessments, pay equity analyses, trainings, and assistance drafting strategic plans.