You’ve finished your law degree. You’ve breezed through practical legal training. You’ve signed the roll of solicitors. At last, the day you’ve worked years for has come – you’re a lawyer. So, what next? How do you translate all those years of hard learned law into a successful legal career? It’s a question commonly asked by students at the College of Law. In response, the College of Law has written an eBook guide to thriving as a lawyer, featuring 10 practical tips for new lawyers.
The ebook covers some of these topics and more. Download your copy for the full ebook.
Find a mentor, and don’t be afraid to ask questions
No lawyer starts their career knowing all the answers. The key is to ask good questions which reflect the fact that you have attempted to research and find the answer for yourself. A mentor can be an ideal person to whom you could pose career or legal questions; as mentor relationships can exist independently of your workplace, it can be a safe space to ask what might seem like foolish questions. Mentors are also an excellent source of contacts, and more importantly, only agreed to be your mentor because they are passionate about your progress. Formal mentoring programs can exist within a law firm, or as part of your local legal professional body. However, you can also form your own mentor relationships – if you meet someone you find inspiring, approach them! The worst that can happen is that they are too busy to assist.
Forget work-life balance, but be kind to yourself
Lawyer hours are notoriously long. So long, in fact, that perhaps it’s best to embrace the idea that work and life are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they exist as part of a whole life – your whole life. Achieving balance is less about an unsustainable ‘work hard, play hard’ lifestyle, and more about enjoying what you do while also dedicating quality time to your loved ones, and looking after yourself through rest, exercise, and downtime.
It’s an approach that is fundamentally being kind to yourself. As a new lawyer, you’re likely to make mistakes. However, as well-trained pessimists, lawyers are often far too hard on themselves for making mistakes. Instead, reframe your mistake as a necessary lesson, one learned by countless lawyers before you. As long as you learn and consistently improve, it was a mistake well worth making.
Negotiate like a pro
Negotiating on behalf of your client is part of every lawyer’s day-to-day workload. Doing so effectively requires you to develop emotional intelligence and empathy, two skills not easily taught. To succeed as a negotiator, keep in mind that it is crucial to be ‘hard on the problem’, but ‘soft on the people’. In other words, be firm about your client’s position without making it personal for the person sitting across the negotiating table. Be courteous and collaborative as a negotiator; after all, settling a situation in the negotiation room is likely to be a lot more amicable and less expensive for your client than taking a case to court.
Master practical legal skills, including advocacy and drafting
Other bread and butter activities of a lawyer include advocacy and drafting. Persuasion lies at the heart of good advocacy. Be structured, succinct and engaging. Support your arguments with well-chosen exhibits. Above all, prepare thoroughly. Preparation makes presentation simple.
Drafting, for example, a statutory declaration, could be regarded as a written extension of verbal advocacy. In addition to delivering succinct and well-supported arguments, it is essential to avoid exaggerating any facts – a common trap for new lawyers.
Manage your time, and record all you do
The six-minute billable unit is the bane of every lawyer. To avoid it becoming a source of stress or dissatisfaction with your work, have a system in place to record all you do, assigned to the correct client or administrative task. Starting every day with a clear to do list will help you manage your time – and help you leave on time. Remember to also record time spent on PLT or CPD, as well as ad hoc time spent representing the firm at careers fairs (under ‘marketing’) or supervising a seasonal clerk (under ‘mentoring’). These records will prove handy when it comes to performance reviews, as they reflect a well-rounded new lawyer.