New Year, Better You—New Year’s Resolutions for the New Lawyer

Robert Gottfried
Now more than ever, lawyers must be an example of civility, professionalism, and respect.

Now more than ever, lawyers must be an example of civility, professionalism, and respect.

Petri Oeschger/Moment via GettyImages

New Year’s Day has come and gone, but it’s never too late to create resolutions that will benefit your personal life and professional life. Here are some resolutions to adopt in the New Year that will help you be a better lawyer and a better person.

Get Organized

In 2016, the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability reported in the Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims: 2012–2015 that administrative errors, such as failure to properly calendar, failure to file documents on time, and “failure to react to calendar,” made up almost 25 percent of legal malpractice claims filed against attorneys.

ABA Model Rule 1.3 requires lawyers to “act with reasonable diligence and promptness” in their representation of a client. Comments to the Rule state that your workload must also be controlled and managed so that you can handle each matter you are assigned competently. With that in mind, start this year by evaluating your current work habits and finding new or better ways to keep yourself and your practice organized. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your firm’s calendaring system. Diary important deadlines, court appearances, statutes of limitations, and other commitments. Invest in a quality planner that works for you and use it to keep a backup hard copy of the same dates. Also, make a commitment to respond to emails, voicemails, and other communications from opposing counsel, clients, or from within your own firm promptly. 

Learn Something New

Staying on top of current trends, technologies, and developments in the law is not only interesting and fun but it’s also mandatory! ABA Model Rule 1.1 discusses a lawyer’s duty of competence, and comment [8] to the Rule stresses that lawyers should “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice . . .,” including technology. Further, almost every state requires its lawyers to complete a certain number of continuing legal education (CLE) credits each year.

Make sure you stay on top of the MCLE requirements in your state. Many states also require specialized credits, such as CLE courses in technology, ethics, well-being, or professionalism. The ABA offers hundreds of hours of free, online CLE courses to members through its CLE marketplace. Pick something relevant to your practice, or something new that interests you!

Be Kind

Now more than ever, lawyers must be an example of civility, professionalism, and respect. In fact, the preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct stresses this, stating that lawyers have a basic obligation to maintain a “professional, courteous, and civil attitude” toward all people involved in the legal system. Take a moment to reflect on how you uphold these values in your practice, including how you interact with your clients, opposing counsel, non-lawyer legal professionals, and the bench.

Be Well

Maintaining physical, mental, and emotional wellness are essential components of succeeding as a new lawyer. The ABA Young Lawyers’ Division and the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) have a wealth of resources on how to maintain or improve your work-life balance, cope with stress, recognize the signs of burnout, and more. If you need assistance, do not be afraid to reach out for it. Check out CoLAP’s directory of Lawyer Assistance Programs, which provide confidential services and support to judges, lawyers, and law students of every jurisdiction who are facing stress, mental health concerns, or substance use disorders.

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Robert Gottfried is staff counsel at the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility in Chicago, Illinois.