5 Tips For Preparing for Your First Legal Job

Tips on Preparing for Your First Legal Job

With law school behind you and your successful attempt at the bar exam, it’s time to get yourself ready for your first full-time job in your chosen profession. Like any new hire there will be certain expectations of you, but the level of pressure and expectation on a junior associate can be significant, so understanding what is to come before you set foot in that office is essential to career success.

Understanding Who Can Help You

Keep in mind that this is your first job; even if you are extremely fortunate and have landed your dream job you are still coming in at the bottom of the hierarchy. In a large firm that might mean you will have a mentor and a training program, in a smaller firm it likely means that you will be on your own to sink or swim. So what can you do to succeed?

As graduates of the service academies know, the key to success for a freshly minted junior officer is to trust their subordinates. This applies to junior associates as well. Your secretary and the firm’s paralegals know more than you do about the way the firm operates and how the process works. Using them as an information resource can go a long way towards making you successful from the start. They know how the partners like to function and can make your life much easier by knowing everything from how to get coffee made to operating the phone system, to making copies, how to enter billable hours in the tracking system, and, of course, how the firm interacts with the local legal establishment. Be polite and asking questions and even for assistance when you need it gets these people on your side and helps you move forward. Being polite and friendly to everyone costs nothing and can generate a significant return.

Key to Billable Hours

Remember that there is time and there is billable time. While every firm may have their own policies and procedures for what is and isn’t billable. Remember that the firm has to explain to clients what time was billed for and that it is about the results, not the process. If there is an average amount of time it takes for a specific billable activity and you’re taking longer, examine why and perhaps enter only the billable hours normally associated with the task. Some firms may tell you up front how long a task should take, as a new lawyer you don’t have the experience to judge for yourself in most cases. But remember, no one wants to appear inefficient or unable to perform to standard, especially a junior associate; it’s not about how hard you worked, it’s about the results.

Ask Questions 

Don’t be afraid to ask question; clearly understanding the assignment given to you helps makes sure that what you deliver is what was expected. And deliver 100% of the assignment. Your work should completely meet the requirements of the project and not require any additional effort to be used, be it proper formatting or a cover sheet. Never cut corners. Attention to detail, even something as seemingly trivial as typo’s such as “it’s” (or its) or other minor grammar or spelling errors can distract from the quality of your work. Proofreading, checking, and double-checking should become your mantra

Manage Your Time, Manage Your Career

Learn how to manage your time. There are dozens, if not hundreds of techniques for time management; find one that works for you. Start off by planning your work days and assuring yourself that you will hit those necessary deadlines. The processes and habits you develop now will stick with you as your career grows.

Make Everyone Look Good

Even though you are coming in at the bottom if the hierarchy, you still have an important role in making your firm and senior lawyers look good. Your actions, behavior, and work product all reflect on that. This is the first job in the career that you chose; make sure it is the stepping stone to a long and fruitful career. Understanding what getting started in this first job is the first step in that process; whether you are talking to law firm recruiters, or looking to an in-house legal staff, understanding the job and managing your expectations will go a long way to long term success.

If you’re competing for employment or advancement in the legal profession contact Special Counsel today to learn more about opportunities available to you.

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