By Liza Vasquez ICF CMC and Jeffrey F. Silber CPA MBA CMC
Certified Master Business and Life Coaches
During the last twenty-five year, we have coached countless lawyers from the most junior interns to the most senior partners in law firms. In fact, we have been fortunate enough to have had long-term relationships with most of these law firms. This has given us a unique perspective on those who have climbed the ladder to the top of their profession.
If you are a partner, evaluating your interns and junior lawyers, or you are trying to determine the suitability of some senior lawyers for promotion; or you are simply trying to predict which of your lawyers will have successful careers with your firm, we present to you our observations of the characteristics that lead young lawyers to succeed.
On the other hand, if you are a young lawyer who is dreaming about occupying a partner’s office one day, then we encourage you to take to heart our suggestions derived from our many years of experience. Try to incorporate these concepts into how you act and make them your habits. If you do so, you will have a much better chance of bringing your dreams to fruition.
Vision of the Future: As a hard-working young lawyer, enjoy what you do, this is one of the best times of your life. When your name is in the title of the law firm, you will miss these days more than you can possibly imagine. For partners: evaluate your lawyers for their strong vision of their futures.
Where are you Going? Is this just a job for you or is this the start of your professional life? Due to the commitment you will have to make to the profession, being a lawyer is a calling, not a job choice.
Research: You will need to do good research (which is boring, methodical and lengthy) but necessary. Wrap your mind around this idea and accept it.
Begin Your Professional Networking: Make friends with your professors, they are an excellent source for “where to go” and “who to call” and quite often for impressing your boss. Also, maintain your friends from high school, university and law school. They will form an important part of your professional network in the future.
If you are an Intern and still in school: Enroll in extracurricular activities in law school and at your university that give you exposure.
Not Everyone Survives: The upside of this is that every departing colleague is a potential ally, client, referral source or a genuine friend. Stay in contact with them.
Making friends: The more people at the Firm you learn to work with, the more successful you will become. For partners: observe which of your lawyers has made her/himself known inside the firm.
Respect: Be respectful to everyone in the firm, especially your superiors, but don’t be an obvious sycophant (bajulador, sicofante, 阿谀奉承的人)
Where are you? Never ever lie about your whereabouts or your availability and the hours of your academic schedule. Come back to the office quickly after completing an assignment outside the office.
Compliments and Criticism: Don’t get too excited when you get congratulated for some good work and don’t get too depressed for any errors or missteps. It’s the long-haul that counts.
The Reward of Working With and for Clients: Learn how to overcome frustrations and understand that one of the best rewards you will receive is attending clients (who may not always appreciate your advice and services).
Who are Junior Lawyers and Legal Intern: Some partners and senior associates might treat interns and junior lawyers as if no one cares about them. Learn to suffer in silence and work swiftly, discreetly and proactively. However, the intelligent partners and senior associates realize that all the greatest lawyers began at the bottom, and they will treat you with care and respect.
For partners: be sure your firm has a policy of profound respect for the junior lawyers and interns because one day they may be partners of the firm, in-house counsels, entrepreneurs, or potential clients.
Office Politics: Do not get involved in office politics and never repeat any gossip you hear, even if you believe it.
Generally speaking, lawyers have big egos: They want to impress people with their accomplishments. This is not appreciated. Leave your ego, in a box, under your bed. Imagine that every person you meet has an invisible sign around their necks that says, “Make me feel important” and act accordingly.
· Jokes: A sense of humor is appreciated but do not tell jokes around the office. A humorous anecdote about yourself is acceptable. If you are motivated to tell a joke, must be 100% related to something being discussed at the moment. No random jokes.
· Alcohol Consumption: You must never be seen by anyone in the law firm as drunk whether it is as a firm event, lunch with a client or drinks with the team after work. This will do your reputation irreparable damage – even if you are with partners who may be drinking excessively. Also, once you leave your university days behind, getting drunk is always inappropriate. Your friends, who may be potential clients or referral sources, will see you as immature.
Partners: Keep an eye on the alcohol consumption of your team members. Excessive and inappropriate alcohol consumption can be a strong indicator of possible unreliability.
Punctuality: Arriving on time is a sign of respect
In the Courts:
· With court personnel, begin with a smile, be friendly
· Your aim is to develop a good relationship with the clerks and secretaries
· As a young lawyer, you have access to things in court that the senior lawyers do not and could not have
· Regarding the documents, you are handling for court and understand what is behind the things you are doing
· Learn the art of small gifts like chocolates, Starbucks gift cards - Learn Who and When
Emotional and Interpersonal Intelligence:
· Get close to partners by being involved in various matters together with them and showing your commitment
· Always exhibit honesty and transparency
· Look for a mentor: not only professionally, but also for life
· Begin building trust and maintain it
Working with Others and Maturity:
· Immature young lawyers and interns tend to fool around a bit too much in the office – be alert to this
1. Stay away from social media at work, the exception is LinkedIn
2. Do not answer or send personal text messages while at work – wait until lunchtime or if it’s urgent, step away from your desk - take it outside
3. There is no surfing the web at work for non-professional reasons
· The work dictates when it will need to get done – hard work is part of the process
· Be available - Many young lawyers are unreachable after 6:00 pm – be reachable! That doesn’t mean you are working 24/7, just make it known that in an ‘emergency’, you are available
· Commitment to the Firm and dependability are essential
· Be a team player
Your Work, Initiative, Qualities and Talents
· Show initiative
If the question is: how much do apples cost? Don’t come back and say, $2.00 per pound (or kilo). Come back with: “There are three kinds of apples available. MacIntosh at $2.15 per pound, Red Delicious Apples at $2.35 per pound and Granny Smith Apples at $2,50 per pound. Fresh apple juice is $4.50 per liter and dried apple slices are $3.00 per pound. Go the extra mile, be through show ingenuity. Do more than is asked of you, more than just doing, really get involved
· Pro activity is very important, always try to be one step ahead
· Study and analyze
· Stay focused on your work
· Don’t ever use Internet translators when asked for a legal translation (it’s cheating, and the results are amateurish!)
· Be sensitive to the clients’ needs and what they want from the law firm
· Understand cultural differences
· Develop good habits, like continuously reading books – a good habit that will last your entire life
· Young lawyers and Interns are eager to finish, but often do not realize that they are concluding only the initial education of a process that is approximately 17 or 18 years long - in fact, your legal education never stops
· Each stage of your professional career is a platform from which to keep growing and to prepare for the next stage of your professional life
· Develop good written and spoken communication skills
· Your attitude toward work and clients must be that of cheerfulness and unrelenting dedication – as much as possible, have a smile on your face
· Many young lawyers commit to completing a task or to delivering a document at a certain time and then simply do not comply – you must never do this –do not damage your personal brand by not fulfilling commitments
· Keep continuous communication with senior associates and partners, do not make assumptions
· Think strategically – knowing the law is almost never enough – play games like chess to learn how to think strategically
· Assume responsibility where and whenever you can
How to be Supervised:
· A high percentage of senior lawyers and partners are not good at giving instructions and supervising or mentoring
· You can take charge of your own supervision and learning, and you will be more effective than they are, because you know you, better
· When you are given an assignment, ask if you can record the instructions you are being given on your mobile telephone. Explain that it is a more accurate way for you know what to do rather than taking notes and perhaps leaving something out
· Repeat the instructions to make sure you and your supervisor are in agreement with what needs to be done
· Agree on the deadline for you to complete this assignment
· Ask about the importance of the deadline
· Between when you are given the assignment and when it is due, do not bother your supervisor with minor questions. Act independently and with self-confidence
· If you do not know something, ask another junior lawyer or do research. Use resources available and be creative. - only ask your supervisor as an absolute last resort
· Ask for as much feedback as possible
· Do not allow your supervisor to take back the documents to correct or complete. Ask for a review of what needs correcting or improving and then ask that you be allowed to make the needed corrections – this is how you will learn
· If your supervisor insists on taking back the papers for correction, be sure you read all the changes that were made so that you can learn and grow. The more you learn and grow, the more you will be trusted and relied upon – this will make your position in the Firm move up more quickly.
Partners: Please be sure your firm has a policy of supervising young lawyers that comes as close as possible to what we have described above. This will create an environment learning and trust which will forge a strong team.
We have left out of the above discussion, specifics about your legal education. This is obvious – you must be the best technically competent lawyer that is within your power to be. Dedicate yourself to studying and learning.
But too many hard-working, intelligent young lawyers fail because they violate the basic principle that we have outlined above. Read and take to heart all that we have described in this article. These are the actions and attitudes that, when combined with your legal work will bring you the success you are hoping for.
For the partners in law firms, observe the behavior and attitudes of your young lawyers. If you have hired capable lawyers right from the start, the ones who exhibit the traits we have described, will most likely become your partners over time – now you can predict which ones that will be.
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