YourABA: June 2013
YourABA July 2013 Masthead

Help new associates be better lawyers faster

All new lawyers need practical lawyering skills, so how do they get them? A recent Law Practice Management article noted that legal employers are providing more formal practical skills training than in previous years.

The fundamental skills and strategies outlined below will help your new associates get off to a strong start.

Being proactive. From the outset, new graduates have to take responsibility for their careers. All new lawyers must think of themselves as being self-employed. That puts them in the mindset of taking ownership of their work and being proactive about their careers.

Developing a logical plan for completing an assignment will promote efficiency.

New lawyers must also develop a career plan. Having a plan helps them enhance their skills and build relationships in an organized way — to ensure they are always increasing their value. The plan should include specific steps that new lawyers can take to build their practice, at least in some small way, every day.

Building relationships. The “real” job of junior lawyers is to do whatever they can to make the lives of senior lawyers easier. The job is not just about research and drafting documents. Law firms solve client problems, which entails far more. The sooner new lawyers understand that, the better.

Junior lawyers at firms should treat senior lawyers as their clients. That mindset helps them build relationships within the firm and gain valuable skills for providing service to external clients, such as learning to anticipate needs and regularly thinking of ways to be helpful.

All new lawyers also need to remember to make the process of completing projects seamless. This is particularly true for solo practitioners. Clients may not be able to tell whether a lawyer did stellar legal work, but they will definitely know whether the lawyer responded promptly and courteously, honored commitments, listened and empathized.

Managing time. Time management is a challenge for all lawyers but particularly for new ones. It’s common for new lawyers to feel overwhelmed. When they understand that this is not unusual, that alone helps relieve anxiety. When feeling overwhelmed, new lawyers must slow down. That seems counterintuitive, but it’s critical to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks. Taking a time-out provides needed space to develop a plan of attack. That may mean delegating, asking for help or taking other steps to make sure all critical matters get accomplished on time.

New lawyers must find their rhythm. Some people work best in the morning, for example. They may want to tackle the most challenging work right away, leaving more mundane tasks for later in the day.

All lawyers also need to be strategic about nonbillable time. This is especially true for student-body-president types. Junior attorneys need to carefully consider opportunity costs and make sure nonbillable endeavors align both with their career goals and the goals of their firm.

Being efficient. Although efficiency naturally improves over time, new lawyers can employ strategies to boost their efficiency. First, they must understand precisely what they are being asked to do. Senior lawyers often assume junior lawyers know more than they do, and junior lawyers are often reluctant to ask questions. That combination is a recipe for a project gone awry.

Before getting started, junior lawyers should confirm their understanding of the project with the assigning attorney. The junior lawyer also needs to know the name of the client, the billing information, the deadline and the time the senior lawyer expects the project to take.

Developing a logical plan for completing an assignment will promote efficiency. Senior lawyers can help by providing samples of similar work.

Paying attention to detail. New lawyers must understand that even small errors are problematic. Typos, for example, irk clients and make senior lawyers fear that larger mistakes lurk behind the smaller one.

It is more efficient to keep errors at bay than to find and correct them at the last minute. Various habits can help, such as cutting and pasting information rather than retyping. New lawyers should verify information carefully the first time, limiting the need to check and recheck. As one partner at a global law firm counsels new associates, “We never guess. We always look it up.”

For the full article from Law Practice Magazine, click here.

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