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Reader Tips for New Lawyers

By The Editors

If you haven’t already, you’ll want to download Attorney at Work’s 25 Tips for the New Lawyer. Even experienced lawyers say it’s full of useful and thought-provoking perspective. And wisdom is far from a finite resource. Several of our readers and authors have responded with a hot tip of their own for new lawyers. Here you go!

Stay Flexible

Don’t be too rigid in charting your course (though don’t let on if you don’t have a clue!). The best opportunity to get where you really want to go could be outside your view if you are too focused on a decided path.
—Vedia Jones-Richardson, Principal, Olive and Olive, P.A.

No Ditching

Be available—even during off hours. This message from the good folks of Content Pilot is a great example.
—Mark T. Greene, Chief Business Development Officer, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP

Coddle Your Connections

Stay in touch with your friends and contacts. Today’s associate at a competing firm will be tomorrow’s general counsel. In addition, clients find substantial value in lawyers who are connected and can help them identify resources—both inside and outside the profession.
—Sally J. Schmidt, President, Schmidt Marketing, Inc.

Value Other Skills

If you consider non-lawyers to be “administrative fluff,” I suggest you get over yourself. Whenever you spend time doing something that can be performed by a non-lawyer, you are taking money away from the firm. (And if your firm’s lawyers aren’t engaged in legal work or marketing and have extra time on their hands, maybe you have too many lawyers.) Your value to the firm as an attorney is performing legal work for the client. Let your “administrative fluff” do those “non-essential” jobs like accounting, billing, document and file management, tech support and personnel. You’re not good at that stuff anyway, and would probably just screw it up.
—Otto Sorts, Curmudgeon

Invest in Meaningful Relationships

If you ask most senior associates and new partners what one thing they wish they had done earlier in their careers, most say they would have been more systematic about making and nurturing connections with lawyers and other professionals outside of their employers. Newly graduated lawyers may see themselves as totally connected through their social media outlets, but they need to remember the value of repeated face-to-face interaction in building lasting relationships of a depth. That will be necessary to create potential referral sources or employment opportunities. Trust is the basis for all referrals and recommendations and it takes time to build. Setting a goal to meet just one person for lunch or coffee each month can create not only a foundation of meaningful connections, but also good habits that will support long-term success as a lawyer.
—Susan G. Manch, Principal, Shannon & Manch, LLP

Build Alliances

Be mindful of the way you approach the people you interact with. Behind all the “law,” law is essentially a relationship business. Be vigilant that a competitive litigation-type approach does not infect the way you engage others. As my mentor told me almost 40 years ago, “remember, you cannot unpunch someone!”
—Stewart L. Levine, Resolutionary, author and Founder, ResolutionWorks

Share Your Accomplishments

“I want you to know something, Ed, it is not about the number, it is about the way my work is valued in this firm.” — From Erin Brockovich
Demonstrate your value. Lawyers at all levels face the value challenge from every angle: clients, partners, potential employers. Keep a record of your accomplishments (in-firm and out) and don’t be afraid to share. Clients and partners alike want to know what they’re paying for.
—Donna Seyle, Founder, Law Practice Strategy

Guard Your Time and Manage It Well

To become a successful lawyer, you must become excellent at effective time management. Start with these tips:
1. Keep a time log of your day, and note interruptions and energy level.
2. Prioritize your to-do List.
3. Schedule administrative tasks for your low energy time, and block out peak energy time (see number 1) for important activities.
4. Focus on one task at a time.
—Sheila M. Blackford, Practice Management Advisor, Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund

Use Technology as a Tool

With incomes shrinking and access to information on the Internet expanding, the temptation is great for people to assume they cannot afford a lawyer—and that they can do just as good a job themselves using what they find on the web. As a lawyer, if you embody the efficiency and low cost of the Internet, and bring creativity, judgment and experience to the table, your practice will be a viable one. As always, technology is only a tool—it is not the goal. You must always strategically use technology to address the needs of your clients.
Edward Poll, Principal, LawBiz Management

Furlong’s Top Five

5. Follow the advice of senior lawyers, but not necessarily their career paths. They made their way in a marketplace completely different from the one you’re entering; their precedents won’t help much. Don’t be burdened by “standard operating procedure.” Start fresh.

4. You’re not a lawyer who’s running a business; you’re a business owner who provides legal services. The difference in attitude is critical. Too many lawyers resist or resent “the business side” and minimize their efforts there, with predictable results. Take the opposite approach: Embrace and excel at being a businessperson.

3. You have a wide array of legal products and technologies to choose from and a limited budget to work with. Prioritize any tool or process that will reduce your internal operating costs or increase the frequency and quality of contact with your clients.

2.  The two things you’ll hear most often about the law are “this is a cash flow business” and “this is a relationship business.” They’re connected. There is no better guarantor of a successful and fulfilling legal career than good client relationships. Put them at the center of your legal business and you’ll do great.

1. Remember the words of Ernest Hemingway: “The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.” There’ll be days when you’re not sure of either part; but it was true then, and it’s true now.
—Jordan Furlong, Partner, Edge International, and Senior Consultant, Stem Legal Web Enterprises

Download 25 tips and 50+ links!

Attorney at Work’s downloadable guide 25 Tips for the New Lawyer is bursting with handy information about working with others, dealing with your supervisor, getting things done and lots more. And it’s not just tips—there are 50-plus links to helpful articles full of practical advice from the Attorney at Work archives. So if you are new to the practice of law, download your free copy, spend a little time with it and share it with your friends. More seasoned? Forward it on to all those new lawyers you know who could use a boost (or anyone just jumping into the world of work). It’s a sound starting point for some productive mentoring conversations—and it’s hard to do better than that.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Learning, Legal Career Development
Originally published December 15, 2011
Last updated September 14, 2019
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