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After the Bar

Career Resources

Transitioning to Professionalism in the Legal Profession: Creating and Maintaining Relationships

Trevor Thorvaldson

Summary 

  • New attorneys face challenges in maintaining relationships and building new ones after leaving law school. They have entered a stressful, fast-paced profession, leaving behind the weekly social gatherings, daily lunches with friends, and Friday ski slopes of their school years.
  • To build new relationships and maintain previous ones, new attorneys should engage with their colleagues, taking time to get to know them both professionally and personally, explore interests outside of work, keep in touch with former classmates, and create a support system beyond their professional connections.
Transitioning to Professionalism in the Legal Profession: Creating and Maintaining Relationships
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Day-to-day life as a practicing attorney looks a lot different than it did during the spring semester of our 3L year. Turns out, the weekly social gatherings, daily lunches with friends, and Fridays spent on the ski slopes aren’t exactly what being a lawyer entails. Instead, many of us moved back to our hometowns or to places we’d never been before. The only people we know are either friends from high school whom we’ve grown distant from or the folks we see every day in our workplace. On top of all this, we’ve entered a stressful and fast-paced profession.

It’s a difficult new world to explore where you’re no longer surrounded by a group of your friends and peers and instead plopped into an environment where expectations are set high and informal social interactions may be limited. How can new attorneys build new relationships and maintain the friends and support systems created throughout law school? Here are a few simple approaches that can be used when navigating our new roles.

Don’t Be a Stranger in the Office

Coming into any new workplace can be intimidating. Walking into a law office as a new associate is in a league of its own. Everyone in that office has more experience in the law than you, including the assistants and paralegals. The partners are top-notch experts in their respective niches, and the senior associates are not far behind. Although this may create the feeling that your colleagues are untouchable, the fact is that everyone is still human. They may be very busy, but they’re still just human.

You’ve spent your whole life meeting and connecting with people until this point, and entering your law office doesn’t need to be treated any differently. When you show up for work every day, be present to those around you. Yes, you need to get work done and be a productive member of the office, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a friendly conversation with those around you from time to time. Suggest grabbing lunch with coworkers and use this opportunity to connect. Learn about their practices and pick up projects that pique your interest. But beyond professional networking, use this as an opportunity to engage with your new colleagues informally. Over time, these relationships will transition from solely professional to personal, just as they did in law school. Give it time, and don’t be a stranger to those who surround you.

Explore Your Interests Outside of Work

Practicing law also has a very different feel compared with the sporadic schedule of law school. It can be difficult to transition from an hour-long class here and there throughout the day to being at the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and sometimes even longer. With this schedule, making connections is no longer a lackadaisical task. If you only ever go between work and home, you aren’t likely to make any fruitful connections.

Instead, I suggest turning to your personal interests and hobbies outside of work. What is it you like doing in your free time? What activities help alleviate stress and distract you from the pressures of work? Sometimes these are things we’ve already practiced in law school—working out, being outdoors, reading. However, this could also be something we haven’t had a chance to do, like joining a local board, finding a local interest group, or taking a refreshing community college course. Many times, our communities already have social groups to join; you just need to find them.

Our interests are part of what keeps us grounded but can also be a source for making lasting connections. Finding others that enjoy the same things we do (and who work outside of the law) can be a great way to build lasting relationships within your own community. Challenge yourself to take active steps toward your personal interests and use those opportunities as an outlet for socialization.

Keep in Touch with Former Classmates

Staying in touch with our geographically distant friends can feel burdensome. It has become too easy to simply “Like” an Instagram post or reply to a story and be tricked into thinking we are keeping up with our friends. Going beyond that and taking the extra step is invaluable to maintaining the relationships you worked hard to foster.

To keep in touch with your former classmates, I suggest going beyond the “Like” and “Comment” buttons to truly engage with friends that you don’t see every day anymore. Write a postcard. Make a phone call. Invite them to lunch. If you’re passing through town, let them know and make an honest effort to meet up. This can often be one of the hardest things to do consistently, but it often has the highest rewards for both your personal and professional life.

If you’re anything like me, there are a dozen made-up reasons not to make a call: maybe they’re working, it’s close to dinner time, it’s getting late, etc. But, as soon as I convince myself just to make the call, we have some of the best conversations. Whereas colleagues and those outside the legal practice might not relate to our experiences, many of our former classmates are in similar positions starting their new careers. Sharing those stories with each other can highlight that we aren’t alone in our struggle to adapt to professional life and gives a sense of reassurance. Maintaining these relationships should be a priority for those settling into their new roles as attorneys.

A Support System Beyond Your Professional Connections

Although the professional lives we have entered can seem overwhelming and, at times, lonely, by practicing the relationship mindfulness concepts explored above, new lawyers can begin building new relationships while maintaining those developed in school. In doing so, we are building a foundation of connections that may likely lead to future client referrals, job opportunities, and engaging conversations with opposing counsel. Plus, at the end of the day, we all need a support system beyond our professional connections to rely on. I hope these suggestions provide a helpful starting point for new attorneys toward creating and maintaining relationships, and to my former classmates: stay in touch!

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