How New Attorneys Use Routines to Exceed Expectations

Jamar Cobb-Dennard
Remember, healthy lives include time for faith, family, friends, fitness, finances, and career.

Remember, healthy lives include time for faith, family, friends, fitness, finances, and career.

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The first two years of an attorney’s career can be a shock to the system. We need to know the law, navigate new relationships, learn how our partner practices, market ourselves, and find time to network. The hours are even longer than those spent studying in law school. We need to invest in ourselves, our families, and our friends.

To get through all of these challenges, start by establishing a routine. Develop work and personal systems that can help you balance demands, rise to the expectations of your colleagues, and create a holistic plan to grow professionally. 

Great routines start with discipline and include prioritization, time management, planning, balance, momentum, and boundaries. These suggestions will help you establish a routine that will serve you now and in the future.

Plan Your Day and Block Your Calendar

The most successful attorneys plan their weeks and days by blocking their calendars. Decide which projects are most important and urgent. Plan to prepare for meetings and hearings. Schedule time to complete administrative tasks. Leave yourself windows to exercise, eat well, and relax. After you determine your “must and should dos” for the week, block your calendar so others cannot schedule over your most important tasks. Interruptions and new projects will come up, but you will have a plan to work around your priorities routinely.

Do the Necessary Things

Professional development gurus have described discipline as “doing the things that create success that you do not want to do.” Time tracking, business development, and continuing legal education are usually at the top of the list. Billing, however, is the lifeblood of any practice. Associates who drive billable hours are usually at the top of the list when special projects arise. In addition, associates who generate new revenue for the firm stand out as partner material. Finally, continuing legal education within your practice area increases your confidence, competence, and marketability as a partner.

Prioritize “Musts and Shoulds”

We must complete assignments from leadership. We must track our time. We must attend company meetings. Then some activities are “shoulds,” which could become a boon to our practice. When we develop a routine to attend networking events, schedule coffee meetings with colleagues, find a mentor, and write for professional journals, we create a broad sphere of influence and relationships that will serve us through our entire career.

Find Balance

When you set goals and weekly priorities, think holistically about what you want to accomplish. Remember, healthy lives include time for faith, family, friends, fitness, finances, and career. Workaholics burn out. Those with family issues may struggle at work. You can pour more of yourself into your career when you are physically and spiritually healthy. Create a routine that touches each essential part of your life so you can succeed long-term.

Routine Creates Momentum

Remember the definition of inertia from middle school science class? “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion…” This ‘rule’ also applies to our work. When we are committed to a successful routine, we can stay motivated, maintain our energy, and maintain a work level many new attorneys cannot.

Just Say No

You will likely experience conflict between leadership’s demands, client requests, and pressure from colleagues. At appropriate times, it’s okay to say, “no.” When you establish boundaries for yourself, people respect you more. Their respect for your boundaries allows you to maintain a successful routine. Do not allow managers, clients, and colleagues to push you around. Use wisdom and push-back when you cannot meet the quality expectations of additional work or commitments. Principled boundary-setting applies to social and family expectations as well.

Success is not just about your ability to write and understand the law. Our routines, discipline, and boundaries create a lifestyle and career that can make you successful and happy long-term. 

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Jamar Cobb-Dennard practices business law at Alerding Castor LLP in Indianapolis, Indiana.