THE “REAL” JOB OF
IS TO DO WHATEVER
THEY CAN TO MAKE
THE LIVES OF SENIOR
Junior lawyers at firms should treat senior lawyers as their
clients. That mindset helps them build relationships within
the firm and gain valuable skills for providing service to external clients, such as learning to anticipate needs and regularly
thinking of ways to be helpful.
All new lawyers also need to remember to make the process of completing projects seamless. This is particularly true
for solo practitioners. Clients may not be able to tell whether
a lawyer did stellar legal work, but they will definitely know
whether the lawyer responded promptly and courteously, honored commitments, listened and empathized.
Managing time. Time management is a challenge for all lawyers but particularly for new ones. For them, this may be the first
time deadlines have been absolute and that missing them comes
with major consequences. Recent graduates may be juggling
numerous projects—for numerous bosses—for the first time.
It’s common for new lawyers to feel overwhelmed. When
they understand this is not unusual, that alone helps relieve
anxiety. When feeling overwhelmed, new lawyers must slow
down. That seems counterintuitive, but it’s critical to ensure
that nothing falls through the cracks. Taking a time-out provides needed space to develop a plan of attack. That may mean
delegating, asking for help or taking other steps to make sure
all critical matters get accomplished on time.
Besides learning to plan their work for each day, every day,
new lawyers must find their rhythm. Some people work best
in the morning. They may want to tackle the most challenging
work right away, leaving more mundane tasks for later in the
day. Others are best served by wading into complex work only
after several cups of coffee.
All lawyers also need to be strategic about nonbillable time.
This is especially true for student-body-president types. Junior
attorneys need to carefully consider opportunity costs and
make sure nonbillable endeavors align both with their career
goals and the goals of their firm.
First, they must understand precisely what they are being asked
to do. With surprising frequency,
Starting over is never efficient.
Senior lawyers often assume junior
lawyers know more than they do, and
junior lawyers are often reluctant to ask
questions. That combination is a recipe for a project gone awry.
Before getting started, junior lawyers should confirm their
understanding of the project with the assigning attorney. The
junior lawyer also needs to know the name of the client, the
billing information, the deadline and the time the senior lawyer expects the project to take.
Seann W. Hallisky, principal corporate counsel at T-Mobile
USA, also recommends law firms make sure their junior lawyers understand how their work provides value to the client.
This helps them stay focused on client needs. New lawyers also
need to know to check in the instant they believe they may be
heading down a rabbit hole.
Developing a logical plan for completing an assignment will
promote efficiency. Senior lawyers can help by providing samples of similar work. As part of the plan, junior lawyers should
keep track of their research so they don’t continue to revisit the
same authorities time and again.
Finally, because new lawyers often suspect they are not efficient, they may shave their own time. But recent graduates have
little perspective on how long projects should take or what they
should cost. Thus, firm management needs to regularly reiterate
that all decisions on write-offs must be left to senior attorneys.
Being efficient. A close relative of time management, efficiency today is more important than ever. Although efficiency
naturally improves over time, new lawyers can employ strategies to boost their efficiency.
Paying attention to detail. Practicing law usually requires
more attention to detail than anything new graduates have ever
done. At the same time, the heightened focus on efficiency may
tempt them to cut corners. That’s a mistake: Ending up with
the wrong answer is grossly inefficient.
New lawyers must understand even small errors are problematic. In law school, typos and small mistakes are often forgiven in the name of not elevating form over substance. But in
the “real” world, typos irk clients and make senior lawyers fear
that larger mistakes lurk behind the smaller ones.
As Drew Berry, the late chairman of McCarter & English, put
it, a lawyer’s job is to force the reader’s mind to move forward
through ideas. A grammatical or typographical error “derails the
train of thought.”
It is more efficient to keep errors at bay than to find and cor-
rect them at the last minute. Various habits can help, such as
cutting and pasting information rather than retyping. New
lawyers should verify information carefully the first time, lim-