Busy Associates Must Find Ways to Keep It Real
Heather Davies Bernard
Heather Davies Bernard is an attorney for the Office of the Texas Secretary of State, Elections Division and can be contacted at hdbernard@gmail.com.
Isn’t it great that we’re finally attorneys? What’s not so great is how overwhelming, exhausting, confusing, and hard it can be starting out. I have compiled a not-so-conventional top ten list of new attorney survival tips based on my experiences thus far.
1. Call your mother. It is just as important to keep in touch with your family now as it was in law school. And you remember how often you called home while in law school. Well, so does your mother.
2. Do not trust spell check. Before filing a document or turning in an assignment, print the document and read it on paper. Backwards. I am not joking. Our brains are adept at filling in the blanks for us and processing misspelled words, which allows us to overlook them. If you read a document backwards, you will catch errors that you would otherwise miss.
3. Find a mentor. Whether in your office or in your community, it is invaluable to find someone who you can ask questions and who will give honest answers. It is also invaluable to learn about your mentor’s career path as you define your own.
4. Stay in touch with your nonattorney friends—but for the right reasons. Conventional “new lawyer” wisdom advises staying in touch with your friends because they could become clients. My advice is to stay in touch with your friends because they are your friends, and they will help you relax and enjoy your time off. Yes, new business is important but so is friendship.
5. Do something other than law in your spare time. Nonlegal volunteer opportunities in your community can be not only personally fulfilling but beneficial to your career because they revitalize you.
6. If you are unsure about an assignment at work, ask questions. I received praise in my first review for asking detailed questions about my assignments. I was thrilled, even though I was asking questions primarily because I was afraid of making mistakes.
7. Manage your workload. Regardless of your billing requirements, it is important to remember that clients’ needs and deadlines rule. If you have too much on your plate, assess your workload and prioritize based on deadlines and the urgency of each project. Discuss that assessment with your supervisors. Supervisors will respect that you did not miss a deadline, try to hide the ball, or offer an excuse that they have probably heard before.
8. Arrive early for meetings and always be prepared. Punctuality and preparedness will pay off. And that includes bringing paper and a pen.
9. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Plan for your goals, talk to your mentor, and do good work. Do not get impatient with the process of just starting out.
10. Breathe. Take a minute every day to stop, breathe, and center yourself. Remember who you are and all that you have accomplished. And then go take the world by storm!