YourABA April 2012 Masthead

Young lawyers: Tips on getting noticed, making a positive impression

“The relationship between a senior and junior lawyer—that of the teacher and the student—forms the backbone of our profession,” writes Scott Husbands of Dorsey & Whitney LLP in the Young Lawyers Division 101 Practice Series article, “Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and a Handful of Other Tips to Help You Make a Positive Impression Early in Your Career.” To help young lawyers strengthen that important relationship, Husbands provides advice developed over more than a decade in the legal industry, serving as an associate, litigation support analyst and paralegal.

Among gems:

Sweat the small stuff.  You should immerse yourself in the details of the legal matters you are working on, as a large part of your learning process. “Most senior lawyers expect junior lawyers to chase down the minutiae,” Husbands explains.  “Having an answer ready for a detail-oriented question will create a very strong first impression and a feeling of confidence in your abilities.”

“Assumptions create a number of problems for young lawyers,” says Husbands, explaining that young lawyers are often too inexperienced to make proper assumptions.

Sweat cautiously and proportionately. While immersed in the details, don't lose sight of the big picture. “An incomplete or non-existent perception of the big picture will alter your understanding of the details and create a counter-productive learning experience,” warns Husbands. Also, you should balance your level of effort proportionately to the assignment at hand.  ”Don’t boil the ocean for a one-page letter.”

Listen and reflect. Practice reflective listening by repeating what a speaker says, to confirm understanding. It can drastically cut down on miscommunications, and it plainly shows the other person that you are in fact listening, explains Husbands.  

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Never assume anything. “Assumptions create a number of problems for young lawyers,” says Husbands, explaining that young lawyers are often too inexperienced to make proper assumptions, and this can alter the result of their work product and professional relationships. In addition, “those who you are working with may not want you to assume anything. Assumptions about colleagues or clients can be the most disastrous. So, avoid them at all costs,” says Husbands.

If you absolutely must assume, explain. If you find yourself in a situation where you simply need to make an assumption, it is imperative that you explain the assumptions that you are making so that your analysis is better understood, advises Husbands. This will define the scope of your work and also let others know that your analysis is multilayered and can be modified for a different result. “And here's a bit of irony—if you fail to explain your assumptions, someone else may assume you didn't assume anything and you'll find yourself in a downward spiral headed toward miscommunication that no amount of reflective listening or follow-up questioning can resolve.”

Escalate issues you find — Do it early and do it often. In the course of doing your work, let senior colleagues know about issues you find, and develop suggested solutions to share, advises Husbands. Don’t let a minor issue become a huge problem. “None of us want to answer a colleague or client who is asking whether we knew about the issue and if so, why we failed to act.”

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