Career Wisdom for Young Lawyers & Law Students
Your legal career is a marathon, not a sprint
There isn’t a specific finish line. One never fully masters the law. The legal careers we pursue will occupy much of our lives, and must be approached on a long-term basis. If you sprint you will wear out or start to resent your work. Give yourself room grow.
Regardless of your age, act like you are 35
If you are young in the workplace (most law students and new lawyers are), don’t act as if you are a complete novice. Step up and do whatever you are capable of doing in a mature way if you are smart and competent. Similarly, when you are more seasoned employee, don’t act like it and get stuck in your old habits. Approach your day with youthful enthusiasm.
Relationships are about people, not things
The legal career is all about relationships because it deals with people. Just people do not behave the same every day, the law doesn’t always behave the same way every day. As a result, you cannot rely on a generic response. Be very careful about the relationships that you build. Business leaders have embraced the idea of celebrating the “competence of the masses” and not just the “superpowers of the elite.” As you go through your career, know that your relationships are not with things, but people. Learn to genuinely collaborate and really listen to the opinions of others, and don’t let familiarity blind you to the talent around you.
Weather tough times, but escape abuse
Life is way too short to tolerate an abusive workplace. If you find yourself working in one, unless you are truly starving, start looking for something new.
Network with people outside of your age and practice group
The legal profession is intergenerational and interdisciplinary. Millennial attorneys should make a conscious effort to network with more senior attorneys (specifically, young attorneys should be looking to meet useful mentors and career champions who can open doors and fast track their careers). Similarly, the more seasoned, successful attorneys shouldn’t just sit back reflecting on nostalgic memories. They should be proactively seeking out smart, young attorneys who can open their eyes to new ideas.
Be a friend to your colleagues
You will spend a lot of time at work. Hopefully, you work with people you like. The legal profession can certainly exist without friendships (in theory), but our community and work is much better when we are among friends. The happiest lawyers are those who work in areas where they are passionate with colleagues they really like.
Failure is education
Thomas Edison articulated this best: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Law school is an environment that breeds the fear of failure. This atmosphere rewards a minimalist approach to the preparation of practice, and to new opportunities. Then, when we are thrust into practice, we are expected to pick that there is little value in being ordinary and that we will have to take risks to achieve more.
For more, check out some of the advice from a recruiter’s perspective.