- There are specific and important habits and practices you should develop to maintain a healthy, satisfying legal practice.
The legal profession is demanding—especially for young lawyers. Managing your practice as a young professional while building client relationships can seem daunting. But, there are specific and important habits and practices young lawyers can develop that will result in maintaining a healthy, satisfying practice. Here are a few.
Effective communication is essential to good lawyering and critical to the success of any young lawyer. Becoming an effective communicator requires understanding a client’s needs and goals, conveying an objective assessment of the case, managing client expectations, establishing realistic deadlines, and calling to attention important issues as they arise.
Understanding the client’s goals is crucial and an often-missed step. Each client has different expectations regarding deadlines, case management, and settlement. A good lawyer seeks to understand each client’s preferences and objectives and focuses on satisfying them. Clients also need objective, upfront advice from their lawyers. As a young lawyer, this can be intimidating at first—but it is important to remain confident in your assessment and advice. Part of managing client expectations also involves setting deadlines for the client and meeting those deadlines. Clients get annoyed by last-minute requests for information and review of discovery responses. Establishing these deadlines involves generating timelines and calendaring tasks ahead of time. Clients also want to be made aware of key issues involving the case and any potential large bills.
These same tips can also be applied when communicating with partners. Some of the largest communication issues involving partners arise from either a lack of communication or miscommunication. It is imperative to confirm your understanding of an assigned task to avoid later misunderstandings, which could cost you unnecessary time to correct and thousands of dollars of write-offs to fix. Similarly, it is also important for young lawyers to communicate their instructions in a clear and concise manner and request more time to complete assignments when necessary.
Partners also love when associates proactively work up a case and communicate internal deadlines, upcoming deadlines, and next steps. You should approach the partner with what you believe should happen next in the case or how recent discovery responses or deposition testimony impacts the case. We call this “owning the case”—it will get you far.
Today’s lawyers are more accessible than ever with our cell phones, email, text messaging, etc. A consistent criticism that clients have about lawyers is their failure to return phone calls or emails promptly. We must never forget the legal profession is a service-oriented business. For a healthy practice, it is crucial to promptly return phone calls, emails, and other communications from clients, partners, colleagues, and other parties. A good rule of thumb is to return communications within 24 hours. It is also good practice to ensure that your assistant knows of your whereabouts throughout the business day. Partners also appreciate when associates communicate their unavailability especially when there are tight deadlines to meet.
Young lawyers need to be mindful about protecting confidential attorney-client communications when using the various methods of communication that are at their fingertips. Know the law of attorney-client privilege and attorney work product in your relevant jurisdiction. To avoid waiver, be careful about whom you direct or copy on your email communications and advise clients to do the same. Communications exchanged between your office and your client should prominently display “ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED” so it is clear that the communication is meant to be between an attorney and client.
All young lawyers want to gain the trust and confidence of partners and clients. Nothing builds trust better than consistently producing high-quality, timely work product. This also frees up the partner to handle the bigger issues in the case. Quality work product requires in-depth, thoughtful analysis of the legal framework and facts of each case. Young lawyers should carefully read through supportive and non-supportive case law, shepardize cases, and develop creative legal arguments based on the existing legal climate. Be strategic about which cases to cite for a proposition or which to analogize to the current case. Partners also appreciate when associates propose solutions for problems and challenges. Quality work product also involves careful proofreading of all work product, including emails. Clients spend a significant amount of money for our services—so grammatical and spelling errors simply cannot happen. Partners rely on associates to ensure none of these mistakes occur. It is imperative to carefully review all your written work.
We all have a reputation, and we all want to protect it. To do so, young lawyers need to be mindful that what they say and do reflects on the individual, as well as that person’s firm or organization. You should always take the high road in disputes with opposing counsel. You should also respond to the client and partner when you say you are going to respond to the client and partner. Be a professional and take pride in your work.
It is no secret that maintaining a steady work-life balance is crucial to becoming a successful lawyer. There are many reasons why maintaining a work-life balance is key. For one, young lawyers need to be mindful of fatigue because productivity and clarity can be severely affected by a lack of sleep. The constant grind mentality can also lead to health risks as we all know that stress increases the risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and heart disease. An inability to communicate boundaries can also lead to increased and unmanageable expectations.
A steady work-life balance helps attorneys stay healthy and engaged in their work. The number one tip for maintaining this balance is making and taking time to take care of yourself. Ensure that you’re eating a well-balanced diet, exercising often, meditating, getting enough rest, and having fun. Having fun could mean spending time with loved ones, traveling, or picking up a new hobby. The key is to find and take advantage of time away from work to create an optimal balance that fits you and your lifestyle.