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Tips for New Attorneys to Position Themselves for Elusive Opportunities

Mariah Katarina Fairley, Afshin Najafi, Christopher John Pulido, and Maytak Chin

Tips for New Attorneys to Position Themselves for Elusive Opportunities
Kiyoshi Hijiki via Getty Images

For young, diverse, and women litigators, gaining courtroom experience and developing oral advocacy skills is elusive. Opportunities are limited, and young, diverse, and women litigators face additional barriers. So, it is important for allied practitioners to foster opportunities that provide these attorneys with greater access to courtroom experiences. To optimize your interactions and help facilitate these experiences, here are some tips on how young, diverse, and women litigators can position themselves to benefit from these limited opportunities.

Six Tips for New Attorneys

Implementing these pointers early on in a new attorney’s career may preserve and ensure additional opportunities in the future.

  1. Stay ready. Litigation often involves a rapidly changing landscape. As such, there are many opportunities that may suddenly arise for new attorneys to take on unanticipated roles and responsibilities. By staying abreast of all facts, issues, and needs in a case, new attorneys can be ready to maximize their ability to seize any unexpected opportunities that may arise.
  2. Communicate your wants and needs. Just as attorneys advocate for their clients, they need to advocate for themselves as well. Generally, new attorneys shy away from communicating their professional desires, which hinders the ability for more senior attorneys to advocate on their behalf. Attorneys who are more vocal as to their professional desires, in an appropriate manner, often realize those desires and will have more effective advocacy on their behalf.
  3. Every good job is built on some grunt work. New attorneys should give every assignment their all, no matter how big or small. Get into the habit of submitting every project with a high level of care and ownership. A new attorney excelling on one small task may lead to the supervising attorney becoming a “repeat customer,” and gradually giving more and more responsibility and complex matters to the new attorney. A new attorney’s job is to add value to the team by making life easier for the next attorney; and sometimes making life easier, is not always pretty.
  4. Get out there. Almost nothing good is going to happen to you within the four walls of your office. Work can often become hectic, leading new attorneys to lose sight of the value of networking. It is imperative for new attorneys to get out of their offices (or get onto Zoom in this era) and network with others, both inside and outside of their workplace, in order to seek out opportunities. Put yourself out there and knock on doors. A new attorney never knows what opportunities may arise from simply joining a committee or taking someone out for a coffee.
  5. Understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor can generally be any senior member of your workplace who provides you with a wide variety of advice and support. A sponsor may seem similar to a mentor, but there is an important distinction between the two. A sponsor is someone who has the ability to “make things happen.” A sponsor has the power to materially advance an attorney’s career in instances where the attorney is not present. For example, a mentor may provide advice on how to best balance two different assignments with competing deadlines. While a sponsor may advocate for the associate taking on more responsibility in a particular case or even nominate the associate for partnership. Having a sponsor is key for new attorneys who wish to overcome professional obstacles that they otherwise would not be able to alone.
  6. Be kind. In the grand scheme of things, people rarely remember the specific assignment you submitted in your first year of practice, but they do remember how you made them feel. The legal profession is very small and attorneys never know where one another may end up. Do the right thing and be nice to everyone.