Leaping from the Opening Gates: Success Tips for New Lawyers

By Melissa Lafsky

Every September a fresh crop of law students receive their diplomas, battle through the bar exam and enter the legal market as brand new associates. Some have extensive experience working for large companies, others have never held a job longer than a 10-week summer clerkship.

However, with the right practical guidance, each new hire can be quickly and efficiently trained and given an equal chance to perform at the maximum level. While practical training is generally handled at orientation seminars, much of the crucial information comes in the form of practical advice from peers.

“The number one thing for hiring committees when breaking in new associates is to find a few senior associates or brand new partners who are willing to give the new people a no-holds-barred session of what they need to do to be successful,” says Robb Kestner, attorney.

“It should be the kind of thing that comes with no reprisals. They should be able to say whatever they want about how to work, what to do, what working for this or that partner is like, etc.”

Performance Barometer

According to Kestner, the first thing new associates themselves should focus on once they enter a firm is internal marketing, a factor that serves as a valuable “barometer of performance.”

“Getting assignments from partners and getting repeat business from partners is critical. New associates should try to work for as many people as possible and use repeat business as an indicator of how good their work is and how well they’re doing,” says Kestner.

Top Five Dos and Don’ts

Kestner offers the following “Top Five” list of “dos and don’ts” for brand new attorneys:

  1. DON’T turn down an assignment, no matter how busy you are. Following on that, never miss an assignment deadline without talking to the supervising attorney first, and try not to ask for an extension of the assignment deadline unless exigent circumstances demand it.
  2. DON’T try to hide or ignore a major error, such as a missed filing deadline, or blame a third party. Bring the error to the attention of the supervising attorney immediately. It’s not the end of the world.
  3. DO be courteous, friendly, polite and gracious to all support staff. You can’t do your job well without them. Even if a staff member is in another department or group, you never know when you’ll need help in a pinch.
  4. DON’T ask questions of a supervising attorney that you could find the answers to on your own. For example, read the federal, state or local rules of civil procedure instead of asking when a response to a motion for summary judgment must be filed. A little legwork will save a lot of embarrassment for you and aggravation for the supervising attorney.
  5. DO actively seek to forge a mentor relationship with a partner or senior associate. DON’T expect a mentor to come to you. Use good judgment as to who you will approach, and be respectful of everyone’s busy schedule, but don’t be afraid to seek practice advice from someone whose judgment you trust.

Providing new hires with the best information on how to succeed can ease the transition into the legal market and accelerate young associates to the highest possible productivity levels.

Melissa can be reached at Melissa.L@BeTuitive.com.