From My Mentor to You
By Sheri L. Kelly
Sheri L. Kelly is the owner of the Law Office of Sheri L. Kelly in San Jose, California, where she focuses on business law. She can be contacted at
As a new attorney, figuring out what you need to do to succeed at your firm often can seem difficult. You know that you need to “do good work,” but what exactly does that mean? Other than your work, where should your focus be? Early in my career, one managing partner shared his opinion about what new associates can do to set themselves apart and succeed in firm life. His advice has helped advance my career, and now I share it with you.
First, for the first few years of your practice, the quality of your written work is one of the most important factors that your firm considers when evaluating your progress. It is important to complete all written assignments on time and to do the best work that you can. If you have time, ask another attorney you trust to review your document before submitting it. Always spell and cite check your documents. Self-edit your work to minimize the amount of review that is needed to finish the document. Finally, turn in a first draft that looks as close as possible to the final product.
Second, demonstrate that you think independently about client and case management objectives. For example, if you genuinely disagree with a strategy in a particular matter and can back up your position with new facts or research, let your views be known.
Third, learn how to manage opposing counsel, and advocate for your clients’ positions while maintaining your professionalism and civility. You should focus on developing a style of advocacy that is consistent with your personality.
Fourth, create and maintain good client relationships. The best way to achieve this goal is to provide your clients with regular updates of their cases and to return their phone calls the same day you receive them.
Fifth, be mindful of your firm’s resources. For example, when you become aware of a deadline, you should plan ahead and use the firm’s staff, paralegals, and other resources. You also should manage your travel cost by planning ahead and booking airfare and other accommodations as soon as possible. In addition, you should ensure that your time records are up-to-date and accurate.
Finally, you should invest in your career long-term by making consistent contributions to bar-related associations, such as the ABA. Being active in bar associations on a regular basis can help build important peer relationships that will help you down the road, especially when you start developing the business side of your practice. You also will further hone your practice skills as a lawyer in a collegial environment. Find a bar activity in an area that interests you, and you can advance your own career while enjoying yourself at the same time.
Developing your skills in these areas will help you succeed at your current firm and wherever your career path might take you. Now find a mentor of your own who can further enrich your career!
Back to Top