Becoming the Best Lawyer A Guide for Graduates
Oct 12, 2021 09:50 AM EDT
Graduating from law school is one of the most impressive academic achievements and one which you should be incredibly proud of. The long hours of study, sacrifice, and determination are about to pay off as you launch into your career as a lawyer.
Now, you are turning your attention to your career prospects. After all, you did not do all that work just to coast through your career. You need to translate your theoretical knowledge into professional excellence, but where to begin?
This guide highlights some key factors to consider when at the start of your career as a lawyer to ensure you become the best lawyer you can be.
Choose a mentor and make the most of the relationship
It does not matter how thorough your education, no lawyer can claim to have all the answers, even when they have several years of experience under their belt. Obviously, experience and knowledge will improve as your career progresses, but you can also make a concerted effort to speed this process along by finding a mentor. A more experienced lawyer who works either in your workplace or elsewhere can provide invaluable insight and knowledge.
Your mentor should be someone who is willing to answer your questions, even the simple ones that you might be reluctant to ask. There are often official mentoring programs in law firms designed to connect new lawyers with more experienced lawyers. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from approaching someone you admire to see if they would be open to mentoring you and sharing their experiences.
Visit Entrepreneur.com for what to consider when choosing a mentor.
Prepare for some long hours
You will not have got this far without realizing that a lawyer often works long and unpredictable hours, which can be dangerous if not handled well. It can be difficult for lawyers to draw a line between their personal and professional lives and even more difficult to find a completely equal balance. Instead, many lawyers find more success by accepting that their workload will fluctuate, making the most of their free time when it comes around, and finding time for joy, family connection, and a social life. Every new lawyer will find themselves making errors, and it is natural for this to cause them to become pessimistic and self-critical. Remember that every mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve, so treat them as positive experiences and push forward.
Hone your negotiation skills
No lawyer will make a success of their career without the ability to negotiate on behalf of their client. Negotiation is not always easy to master as it requires natural qualities like empathy and emotional intelligence, which are not possessed by everyone. Being an effective negotiator requires key interpersonal skills, patience and determination, and the ability to put others at ease while also remaining firm in your position for the sake of your client. If you can master the skill of negotiation, you can avoid taking cases to court, which is usually in the best interests of your client.
Expand your practical skillset
While your legal education will have provided you with the practical skills and foundation that you need to conduct your work, there is always more to learn. For example, the ability to be persuasive and engaging in your arguments, both verbally and in written documents, is essential but a skill that is honed over time. This is generally referred to as advocacy and should always be supported by excellent evidence. Success in the court room often begins with the right research and preparation months before your appearance. Many newly qualified lawyers fall into the trap of over-explaining their arguments and exaggerating their statements where they should be sticking to simple and compelling arguments bolstered by evidence.
Further your education
At the beginning of your career, you may find that you are focusing on one particular area of law, but over time it would be in your best interest to widen your experience. The broader your knowledge of the law, the more effective you will be in your work, especially when tackling complex cases with multiple strands. You may be restricted in your exposure to new cases early in your career, but you can still expand your horizons through further study. For example, you could gain expertise in national security issues and the law surrounding them by studying security courses online. Studying online will enable you to arrange your learning around your career so you can continue to gain real-world legal experience and earn a living.
Record all your work
A lawyer charges for the time they spend on tasks and projects, whether they are small administrative tasks like sending letters, conducting research, or appearing on behalf of a client in court. To ensure that you are billing your clients accurately and to prevent the process from becoming a source of confusion or stress, get into the habit of recording whatever you do. It can also help to make a plan at the start of each day, listing all the tasks that you want to complete that day and how long you anticipate they will take to complete. You can then annotate the list with any variations. Be sure to record all your tasks and activities to account for your time so you can present your records at performance reviews.
Look after your health
Working as a lawyer is notorious for being one of the most stressful careers out there, and without the proper precautions, this could have a significant and detrimental impact on your health. If you are not getting enough sleep, adequate nutrition, or maintaining some level of physical fitness, your physical and mental health will deteriorate. This will have an impact not only on your personal life, but also on your capacity to perform as a lawyer. While it may not always be possible, try to make time for a healthy lifestyle and self-care. Click here for some tips on self-care for busy professionals and see how it can make a difference.