Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
(and other good advice)
Is there still any helpful information that the voice of experience can impart to younger lawyers? To find out, we circulated the following two questions among more experienced attorneys to find out what they know now that they didn’t know then.
What one piece of advice do you have for an attorney just starting out?
• Remember that what you learned in law school was only the very beginning of what you will need to learn as you proceed through your career.
• Learn the rules of evidence and try a few cases as early in your career as possible. It will give you confidence and make the rest of your career more successful.
• Learn to cooperate and communicate with the court clerks. They generally have a wealth of information and with one phone call can often eliminate the need for hours of procedural research. They are also invaluable when lawyers have scheduling conflicts, wish to postpone or advance certain matters, or just need a sense of how a matter may play out. And if you mess up, they often play a critical role in sorting out the problem. The best clerks have a way of making the court system much more user friendly and practical. Get to know them, let them know you, and always show them the utmost respect.
•Decide what goal you want to accomplish in your career, then develop a plan of action to reach that goal. But the plan isn’t written in stone, and it should have flexibility. Review the plan periodically, and modify it when necessary.
• Get a mentor and build a network. The mentor can be an attorney at your firm or another practice, or someone you run into at local bar meetings. Think of someone that you know, like, and respect—and is good at business development. Make networking and business development daily habits. The steps don’t have to be major and can be as simple as forwarding an article or having lunch with a referral source or client. Finally, get involved in community and volunteer work, engage in professional activities, and do an excellent job at everything you do.
• Don’t rely on email as a substitute for conversation. When confronted with new issues and challenges, it’s often best to get out of your office, sit down with someone with more expertise, and have a conversation. E-mailing back and forth is not a good way to work through a problem.
• Don’t be afraid to use your legal skills for other jobs such as teaching, investigating, or starting your own business. A law degree opens doors to other things, aside from the traditional practice of law, that lawyers find more rewarding. If you decide to practice law, remember your family and keep your body in good physical condition.
• There’s more to being a lawyer than a big pay check.
What advice do you wish you had been given as a young attorney?
• The world is peopled by generally normal human beings, even if they happen to be wearing robes, suits, or police uniforms or are your opponents. Treat them that way.
• Spending nonbillable time training yourself to understand issues thoroughly is well worth the investment.
• I wish I’d been told that I should take more vacations.
• Perception is reality.” It doesn’t matter if you’re right, if you can prove it, if you did something exactly the way you were told to, or if you did exactly what you were told to do: If a partner says you’re wrong, you’re wrong.
• Only partners have personal lives—you are not entitled to one. That goes for vacations and holidays as well.
• The one thing they don’t teach you in law school that all lawyers starting out must know is the importance of business development to a young lawyer’s career. Start networking as early as you can, preferably in law school, and establish and nurture a network of contacts and referral sources. Join your local bar association and civic groups, and become (and stay) visible in your community.
• Work hard, but keep everything in perspective. This took nearly ten years for me to realize! As my father (who is an attorney) has tried for years to teach me, everyone is replaceable. He always tells me, “When you think work is too much or you are too important or busy to spend time with your family, take a day off, go to the gym, whatever.” Try taking a walk through a graveyard and reading the headstones. You will realize that everyone is replaceable and we are really here for only a short time. Make it fun!
• Find one or more mentors whom you admire and who will take the time to show you the ropes.
• Dream big.