23 Feb Tiff’s Top Tips for Young Lawyers
New year, new matters? If not, here are some new tips for junior lawyers hoping to be the legal industry’s next rising stars.
Communication is key.
How many times have you seen “excellent verbal and written communication skills” listed at the top of the required attributes section of a job ad? I’m guessing pretty much every time, because like it or not, communicating effectively is one of the most, if not the most, critical aspect of your job as a lawyer. While this might seem glaringly obvious to some, what many lawyers tend to overlook is how crucial communication is within the workplace. Particularly for those just starting out, the most important dialogues you build generally aren’t with your clients or with a judge in a court room, but rather with your law firm colleagues (meaning your supervisors, peers, support staff and anyone else you might work with while on the job). Establishing strong dialogues with these people as early as possible will have a huge influence on what work and level of involvement and responsibility you’re given, and ultimately how your career will unfold. Importantly, communicating does not simply mean just talking more or being the loudest voice in the room. In fact, in lots of cases you’ll be better off doing just the opposite, and instead keeping your ears open, taking note of what others might miss and asking thoughtful questions.
Something important to note is that people have vastly different communication styles – some love a chat at their desk, while others prefer a concise dot-point email. Figuring out how people (particularly your seniors) like to communicate and interacting with them in that way will naturally invite more conversation with that person in the future and no doubt help you be a better colleague and lawyer.
Focus on the solution, not the problem.
You’ll often notice that the best lawyers in the business are skilled problem solvers – they’re always coming up with solutions, which is ultimately why clients pay them the big bucks. So as a junior lawyer, you want to get into the habit of problem solving sooner rather than later, as it’s something that develops with experience, and usually starts off by mixing together some initiative and creativity. In practical terms, this means looking beyond what might be strictly in front of you when asked to complete a task. For example, one of the most common responsibilities you’ll have as a junior is to carry out some legal research, often into an emerging, tricky or untested area of the law. It seems harmless enough, but after a few hours of looking at the same search results on LexisNexis or Westlaw and coming up with nothing, it can get a tad frustrating. The first thing to realise here is that the specific answer you are searching for is unlikely to be sitting there, just waiting to be found or dressed in flashing lights (which is probably why you, as the most cost effective solution within the firm, have been given the task in the first place)! So what should you do in this scenario? Work with what you do find that might help to address some aspect of the question or problem at hand. Whether that be through gleaning at legal precedents, drawing comparisons with a few analogous cases in other Commonwealth jurisdictions, or applying some old fashioned rules of statutory interpretation – do your best to come up with a workaround that shows some outside the box thinking. At the end of the day, the truth is that no one expects you to have all the answers (or at least they shouldn’t), but having a solutions-focused approach will be what sets you apart from the crowd and be of most benefit to you and your colleagues and clients alike in the long term.