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Professional Development

Starting Your First Real Job after Law School

Brandon Merrell King

Starting Your First Real Job after Law School
Lorado via iStock

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For many young attorneys fresh out of law school who have survived three years of classes, law review, moot court, and of course, the bar exam, it may seem like you have already experienced your first job—being a full-time student. But then you step into your law firm, government agency, or other work setting and discover that being an attorney is radically different from being a law student. And if you are like me, it is a terrifying experience going from student to worker. I should know—I walked into a big law firm for the first time and had no clue where to go and to whom to turn when I needed to figure things out. Fortunately, there are countless resources to be found.

Seek Out Mentors (Both Formal and Informal)

The first place to turn to is your firm or office’s formal mentoring program (if one exists). These types of programs offer a great first step to getting oriented to the workplace and can usually be a good spot to ask those seemingly “stupid” and “silly” questions you are too afraid to ask someone else. Even if there isn’t a formal program, seek out mentors both at your firm and in the greater legal community. At my firm, I have a junior partner mentor, and he is available to answer whatever questions I have. I think of him as a light post for whenever I get a little lost along the way.

Seek Support from Support Staff

Be sure to also utilize your support staff, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Many of them have worked at your office much longer than you have, so naturally, they will have picked up plenty of tips and tricks of the trade. One of the first things I did (actually, I think it was the very first thing I did after going to HR, even before turning on my computer) was introduce myself to the legal assistant for my group who sits on my floor. She, unsurprisingly, welcomed me and offered herself as a resource whenever I needed her. And, also unsurprisingly, I have called her numerous times seeking assistance with projects and asking general questions about how my firm operates. I advise getting to know these people as soon as possible. You never know when they will be there to save you or offer assistance at a critical moment!

Associate with Your Seniors and Network

Another good practice is to find a more senior associate (or a more senior attorney in the government or in a non-private practice setting) and establish a relationship early on. These colleagues sat exactly where you are now, so they know the stresses and worries you are experiencing. Chances are, if you have a nagging question about whom to approach about something or how to research an item, or how a partner or supervisor wants something prepared, they will know the answer. And don’t be afraid to carve out some time to ask them to show you the ropes, keeping in mind, of course, that they have their own workloads to manage.

Don’t Be Afraid to Reach Out to Attorneys outside of Your Workplace

I was fortunate that I came into my firm from a two-year clerkship, where I forged relationships with other practitioners in my field. I still rely on these relationships. Everyone is, of course, extremely busy, but getting tips from contacts outside your workplace, particularly if they have worked there in the past, can do you a world of good. In addition to being another resource for your questions about how to practice law, outside attorneys are great networking contacts down the road when you need them. So why not start forging those relationships now?

Above all, the most important thing you should do is resist the urge to retreat into your office and keep your head down all the time. Your employer wants you to succeed (they hired YOU, after all), so take advantage of all the resources available to you. It just takes a bit of courage and effort, and the payoff will be significant.