Anuj
7 Things All New Lawyers Should Know
Anuj Malhotra 25 Dec 2016

7 Things All New Lawyers Should Know

Congratulations to the newest crop of lawyers who recently passed the bar. Doom and gloom notwithstanding, there are a plethora of capable attorneys primed to enter the legal market. When I graduated Harvard Law School in 2004, there were few resources to help guide my foray into the legal world. David Lat had not even begun Underneath Their Robes yet — ergo ATL’s Career Center was years from conception — and there were no great resources for career advice. As a last denizen of the pre-crowdsource advice era, I have several hard-earned lessons and tips to offer this newest crop of lawyers as they begin to build their practice:

    1. Connect! Connect! Connect! That law degree was costly, but its cost is really a sliding scale depending on how effectively you leverage the connections you make, and keep, after law school. Law is not a strictly meritorious practice and from lateral job openings to partnership opportunities to client acquisitions, connections will open doors that would otherwise be unavailable.

What does keeping up mean? Liking an old classmate’s status on Facebook is both passive and meaningless. Face-to-face time ensures that your interactions are both memorable and meaningful. Connections span a wide spectrum. You do not need to be best friends with everyone, but even getting lunch once a year with an old friend can be enough to maintain your connection.

    1. Slow and Steady Loses the Race, but so does fast and furious. Law is an endurance race and while the “finish line” is far off, it is still a race. If you jump off the blocks at a sprint, you will be lapped by your coworkers soon after. Your initial performance will mean nothing after a few months; firms measure attorneys based on their future expected performance and will tend to look at the last six months as a barometer for future performance.

Try to maintain an even but moderate pace that allows you to hit both the quality and quantity requisites for working in Biglaw. And while it is commendable to attempt take on extra work, 2,000 hours a year looks much better to the firm than 2,500 hours and a mental breakdown. Take on only as much as you can handle and don’t attempt to increase your expected hours by more than 10% from one year to the next.

  1. Ask Questions. Asking questions shows that you are both curious and committed. Firms want to see someone determined to continue their education and humble enough to realize they are not omniscient. Beware though! Many teachers may have professed to you that there is no such thing as a stupid question; this is, in fact, not the truth. First and foremost, don’t ask questions to answers which you should know. If you are a real estate lawyer, don’t ask a partner what fiduciary duty is or they’ll be wondering how you both made it through law school and ended up at the firm. Also make sure to keep professional boundaries; a picture on a partners desk is not an open invitation to ask them about their family, treat it as inadmissible evidence and let them open the door first.
  1. Your Career is Pro Per. Firms offer some career development programs and mentorship opportunities, but they will not actively seek to make you the best lawyer you can be. Most of the best opportunities won’t even come from within the firm. Firms’ interests are hardly even aligned with your personal ones and given their pessimism towards lateral retention, they won’t fully invest in your long-term development.
  1. Sell Me This Pen. Lawyers tend to think of business development or marketing as ignoble, and would rather devote time strictly to the practice of law. While a sweet sentiment, the reality is that any partner worth his salt will have some skill in sales and marketing — though sometimes they are not even aware they possess the skill. In my dealings with rainmakers, aside from intelligence and legal prowess, they all possess superb sales skills. Your accomplishments do speak for themselves, but so do every other lawyer’s. It takes a track record of expertise to get in front of a client, but once you’re there, you have to close the deal. Look for partners with a demonstrated record of procuring large clients and see if they are willing to mentor you in the art of sales.
    1. Pick Your Path. We deal with many lawyers who start their career off in one practice and slowly meander down sub-paths until they end up in a related but incompatible specialty. The younger you are, the easier it is to switch specialties, but you will get locked in after a few years. Best-case scenario: you’ll take a class year haircut to get back into your desired specialty.

Keep geographic regions in mind too when considering jobs. If you start out in real estate and you know you want to move to New York in a few years, stick to real estate finance even if it means sacrificing an offer at a great firm for a dirt opening.

  1. Explore Your Options. The days of the lifer attorney are for all intents and purposes over. Firms are aware of this and staying with one firm for eight years in hopes of making partner won’t boost your chances as much as you might hope. A better boost for your chances is moving to a firm that offers better developmental opportunities, more substantial work, or simply higher pay if you don’t plan on staying in Biglaw all your life. It never hurts to explore your options; worst-case scenario, you can stay at your current firm if all other offers are unsubstantial.

As you embark on your careers, remember that there is no singular piece of advice that will fit every given situation. Much of law is reacting to new information with little notice, and your career is the same. We offer free career counseling to our members and we invite you to sign up and drop us a line anytime.

 

This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients and placements for in-house attorneys.

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