Tips for Owning Your Career as a Young Lawyer

Tips for Owning Your Career as a Young Lawyer

 A common fallacy that plagues young lawyers is the notion that everything they need to know about practicing law will be imparted by some guiding force, be it their law school, law firm, or a supervising attorney. The belief is that as long as they dutifully follow instructions and keep their heads down, success will naturally come their way. However, relying solely on this elusive "someone" to steer your legal career is an ineffective strategy and can have catastrophic consequences, from missing out on partnership opportunities to growing to despise the practice of law.

While self-driven career growth isn't a cure-all, it undeniably opens doors to a more rewarding professional journey. Here are some practical insights to help young lawyers assume ownership of their career development:

1. Seek Out a Knowledgeable Mentor

In the world of law, ignorance often precedes knowledge. As a young lawyer, you may not even be aware of what you don't know. You might mistakenly assume that your experiences are the standard, and that everything is progressing as it should. However, by sharing your experiences, particularly with other young lawyers, you gain a broader perspective.

Finding a mentor, both within and outside your workplace, is invaluable. They can provide insights and guidance that would otherwise elude you. A mentor can be the compass that helps you navigate the uncharted waters of the legal profession.

2. Embrace Feedback as a Growth Opportunity

Lawyers are renowned for their packed schedules, and feedback can sometimes be scarce. Partners and senior attorneys may not always take the time to elucidate the changes they make in documents or the reasons behind their decisions. Therefore, it's imperative to proactively request feedback, especially at the right juncture.

When you receive a document laden with tracked changes and annotations, it falls on you to dissect the revisions and understand their purpose. Some changes may revolve around matters of style, such as the use of one or two spaces after punctuation or word preferences. It's beneficial to document these preferences for each attorney or client, aiding in future interactions.

However, some revisions or comments may have substantive implications, and these demand your undivided attention. When you're uncertain about the reasons behind certain changes, arrange a face-to-face meeting with the partner. Clearly express your intention to improve and learn: "May I schedule a meeting to review the changes you made so that I can enhance my performance?" This approach not only increases the likelihood of a positive response but also establishes your identity as an associate committed to personal growth.

Crucially, being receptive to feedback is pivotal for career progression. Ignoring feedback due to unwarranted self-assuredness or, conversely, viewing it as a sign to abandon your legal career entirely, is counterproductive. Strive for progress rather than perfection, recognizing the distinction between the two.

If you find yourself receiving little to no feedback, be proactive in seeking it out. Even if a partner offers a simple "Good job!" ask for specifics about what went well and what areas could use improvement. A lack of investment in your growth by supervising attorneys can be telling – perhaps it's time to explore alternative options if continued development is your goal.

3. Create a List and Solicit Opportunities

If you're a follower of my work, you know that I advocate for the power of lists. In a manner similar to the "Done List," which documents your accomplishments and tasks completed, you can create a "skills" or "experience" list. This inventory should encompass the skills and experiences you aspire to acquire or refine.

For example, if you're venturing into litigation, your list might include tasks like conducting a plaintiff's deposition or cross-examining an expert witness. In the realm of employment law, you might aspire to handle a Department of Labor audit or defend a wage and hour claim.

Once you've compiled your list, use it as a strategic checklist. When opportunities arise, take the initiative to request involvement in tasks that align with your list, whether it's seizing a deposition or contributing to a labor-related matter. The key isn't just when you gain experience, but the deliberate pursuit of expanding the breadth of your expertise. Each time you accomplish an item on your list, proudly add it to your "Done List."

Armed with these three insights, young lawyers can chart a path toward the fulfilling legal career they aspire to build, not just in their early years but also throughout their professional journey.

1. What is the common myth discussed in the article regarding young lawyers and their legal careers?

The common myth is that someone, whether it's law school, a law firm, or a mentor, will teach young lawyers everything they need to know for a successful legal career.

2. Why is it considered ineffective to rely solely on others to guide one's legal career?

Relying solely on others can be ineffective because it limits a lawyer's ability to take control of their own career development, potentially leading to missed opportunities and dissatisfaction with their profession.

3. How can finding a mentor help young lawyers in their career growth?

A mentor can provide valuable insights and guidance, helping young lawyers navigate the complexities of the legal profession and broaden their perspectives.

4. What is the significance of seeking feedback in a legal career?

Feedback is essential for professional growth as it helps lawyers understand areas for improvement and refine their skills.

5. Why is it important to request feedback at the right time?

Requesting feedback at the right time ensures that the attorney is open to discussing their work and can address any questions or concerns effectively.

6. What are some of the reasons partners and senior attorneys might not provide feedback proactively?

Partners and senior attorneys may have busy schedules and may assume that associates are already aware of the reasons behind their revisions.

7. How can lawyers effectively use feedback to improve their performance?

Lawyers can review tracked changes in documents and ask questions to understand why certain revisions were made. They can also document the preferences of attorneys or clients they work with.

8. Why should lawyers be receptive to feedback, even if it's critical?

Being open to feedback, even if it's critical, is essential for professional growth. Ignoring feedback or overreacting can hinder progress.

9. What's the difference between pursuing progress and chasing perfection in one's legal career?

Pursuing progress means striving to improve continuously, whereas chasing perfection can lead to unrealistic expectations and frustrations.

10. When should lawyers consider seeking alternative career opportunities if they're not receiving feedback or mentorship?

Lawyers should consider exploring other options if they consistently receive no feedback or mentorship, as this may indicate limited growth potential in their current workplace.

11. How can creating a skills or experience list benefit young lawyers?

A skills or experience list serves as a strategic tool to help lawyers identify what they want to learn or improve in their legal careers.

12. What are some examples of items that could be on a young lawyer's skills or experience list?

Examples include conducting depositions, cross-examining witnesses for litigators, handling audits, or defending specific legal claims in the area of expertise.

13. Why is it crucial to be intentional about gaining a broad range of experiences in a legal career?

Broadening experiences is important as it helps lawyers develop a well-rounded skill set and can lead to a more fulfilling career.

14. How can lawyers add items from their skills or experience list to their "Done List"?

After successfully completing a task or gaining experience, lawyers can add it to their "Done List" to track their accomplishments.

15. What is the ultimate goal of young lawyers utilizing these insights discussed in the article?

The ultimate goal is to take charge of their legal careers and work toward a fulfilling and successful journey as lawyers.

16. What is the significance of sharing experiences with other young lawyers?

Sharing experiences with peers can provide context, broaden perspectives, and help young lawyers better understand their own experiences in the legal profession.

17. How can young lawyers make the most out of their relationship with a mentor, both within and outside their workplace?

Young lawyers can benefit by seeking guidance and advice from mentors, whether they are colleagues within their workplace or outside contacts in the legal field.

18. What steps can young lawyers take to actively seek feedback from senior attorneys and partners?

Young lawyers can schedule face-to-face meetings, seek clarification on revisions, and express their commitment to improvement to proactively obtain feedback.

19. How does embracing feedback contribute to a young lawyer's professional growth?

Embracing feedback leads to a deeper understanding of strengths and areas for improvement, which, in turn, fosters professional growth.

20. Why is it important for young lawyers to maintain a balance between pursuing progress and avoiding the pursuit of perfection in their careers?

Striving for progress allows young lawyers to continually improve, while avoiding the pursuit of perfection helps prevent unrealistic expectations and potential frustrations in their legal careers.