09 Dec Tiff’s Top Tips for Young Lawyers
So after countless hours of studying in the law library and holidays spent doing anything and everything that will get you a law firm gig, you’ve finally done it. You’ve landed your dream job as a lawyer, congratulations! But what now?
For some of you seasoned veterans, you’ll already have a decent idea of what it takes to survive and thrive in the big bad legal industry, but for others, this is the first time you’re stepping onto the magic carpet and diving into a whole new world. Just like all adventures, there will be some thrilling highs, but you’ll probably also get a little lost along the way. So having been in your shoes not too long ago, over the next few months I’ll be sharing some of my top tips for aspiring lawyers that I picked up in my previous life that will (hopefully) help you get a step closer to becoming the next RBG/ Harvey Specter/ Atticus Finch, etc.
Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
For a decent number of you, this is the start of a career journey that is likely to span over 20, maybe even 30 years, so you’re going to want to pace yourself. Like, seriously. Take a page out of the tortoise’s book because a couple of years in the legal industry can easily feel like a lifetime, so grasping this reality early is crucial.
There are two key parts to this tip. The first is to acknowledge that you’re far from your final destination and that’s 100% okay – it’s exactly where you should be. So don’t expect to get it right the first time round, or even the third (although it goes without saying that you should give it your best shot each time). The secret is to keep learning: see every task as an opportunity for growth and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Instead, be brave enough to admit to them, take on some constructive feedback and do better next time. So many young lawyers (hello) expect perfection from themselves from day 1 and what usually happens is that they fall short of this expectation and lose confidence, or otherwise suffer from burning out really early. Neither outcome is ideal and the most effective antidote is to adopt a more compassionate mindset: be kind to yourself and remember that you are a work in progress and will be for the next few years. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so there’s little chance your legal career will be.
The second part is to prepare yourself for the long and winding road ahead. While your career is obviously important and can be a huge contributor to a meaningful life, the reality is that your health (mental, physical and spiritual) is FAR more important. So if your body is the primary vehicle taking you from point A (baby lawyer) to B (kick-ass legal guru), you’re going to want to take really good care of it. Whether that means an early morning cycle before work, a reformer Pilates class or meditative walk during lunch – you do you boo, JUST DO IT. You are the only person that is responsible for your health, and the sad truth is that very few will care enough about it until something goes wrong. So don’t wait for that to happen. Put some healthy boundaries and habits in place that will help you endure the race ahead, because if you don’t take those steps now, they’ll be much harder to break in later.
Check in before you check out.
It’s poor form to smoke bomb your mates at a party and even worse when you try to pull it off at work. I learnt this lesson during my first week at my old job and was lucky enough not to have it blow up in my face. For the record, I had my reasons – it was about 5pm on a Friday night and I was already running late for a Chinese New Year dinner that was to start at 6pm in Parramatta. A Senior Associate had given me a task just an hour before that needed to be done by 10am the following Monday. By 5:15pm the task was about 85% complete and in my mind, there was no reason why I couldn’t just sneak into the office early on Monday morning, finish it off and have it on the SA’s desk by 9:30am. Needless to say, when it hit 5.30pm, I grabbed by bags, said a quick goodbye and got the heck out of there. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? I thought so too. But what I didn’t realise was that from the SA’s perspective, all I had done was take off for the week without a second thought. She didn’t know about my grand plans to get the task done in time at all costs. How could she, when I didn’t mention a word of it before bolting out the door? Did she glare at me in disbelief and confusion as I said goodbye? You bet. Was she justified in doing so? Yeah, she was.
The lesson to be learnt here is simple: check in, before you check out. Whether that’s through a quick chat about where you’re up to with a task and how you plan to get it done by the given deadline, or an email ahead of time letting your supervisor know that you have somewhere important to be after work, so you won’t be able to stay past 6pm. Trust me, it sounds a bit tedious, but it will go a long way in helping someone else structure their day and show them that you know what it means to work as a team. The earlier you do this, the faster you’ll build up trust amongst your colleagues and you can avoid worrying about whether or not you’re doing a good enough job, because in all likelihood, you are.
Next time on Tiff’s Top Tips, we’ll look at communication is key and what to do when you can’t find the answer.