Author Topic: new attorney looking for career advice  (Read 655 times)

chortitza

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new attorney looking for career advice
« on: December 08, 2018, 03:40:31 PM »
Hi all,

Current 2L at a good law school with a summer associate position lined up for next summer. While I feel fortunate to be in the position I'm in, the potential for a recession has me worried. My firm as a 100% offer rate but had to lay off a few associates during the last downturn and I'm wondering what I can do to A) increase my odds of being one of smaller percentage that get an offer or B) best position myself for the realities of having no experience in a market flooded with attorneys looking for work. I'm no stranger to 12-15 hour days from the time I spent working before law school but if there's something beyond being the first one in, last one out, and doing solid work, I'm all in.

I'll be in a secondary legal market that (hopefully) values the fact that I went to a good school and will have roughly $25,000 in debt when I graduate. All in all, it won't be a bad position as DW and I have been living off one salary for the entirety of our relationship but I'd like to do what I can to make sure all the effort pays off. Any tips/suggestions are much appreciated!

Tick-Tock

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2018, 05:36:14 PM »
It's always good to know people, lots of people.  In addition to doing great work, I would spend the summer making sure you are well known at the firm and also, if you can, getting out to bar association events, etc.  If your law school is in the area you want to end up in, start getting out there now.

Are you at all eligible for and interested in judicial clerkships?  Looks good on the resume and gives you a place to be for a year or two.  The firm may be willing to hold your spot while you're clerking.

And take advantage of any and all opportunities at your law school to acquire actual skills, like legal clinics.  Firms will prefer someone who at least has some familiarity with what lawyers actually do.
« Last Edit: December 08, 2018, 05:38:10 PM by Tick-Tock »

lexde

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2018, 06:38:59 PM »
Hi! Third year associate here. Feel free to PM me if you ever have questions, etc.

@Tick-Tock has some good advice.

Also, remember that at the end of the day, you are glorified customer service. I don't care if you're the biggest hot-shot lawyer in your state - if you don't serve your clients first and foremost, you will not succeed as an attorney.

My advice:
  • Find a mentor in your firm. Preferably a partner, someone you can learn from and who is WILLING to teach. This is crucial. Help them with all of their menial stuff, stay late, be available, and make their lives easier. Be receptive to advice, and implement it when you receive it. Also make friends with associates who are a few years ahead of you, if your firm size allows for it. You can ask them the dumb questions you don't want to ask the partner.
  • Along those lines, strive for continual improvement. I've done hundreds of depositions and I still review transcripts to see how I could better ask questions or get the exact testimony I want out of the deponent. Even if you're in complex litigation where you just have to show up and are not taking an active role, pay attention to what the other attorneys are doing. Hear a good question or series of questions? Write them down. Take every opportunity to learn and get better.
  • Most attorneys are lazy. They learn how to do their job well enough to stay middle-of-the-road and exist comfortably there. They don't do the above two things. They get good-enough results and that's it. Don't be that person. Be hungry.
  • Don't beat yourself up - there will be situations that are impossibly difficult/frustrating/etc. and you WILL mess up, probably big-time, at some point. It will seem like the end of the world, but try not to let mistakes get the better of you. See how you can improve, and keep your mindset focused on improvement. Correct and move on. We all have those stories.
  • The most important thing, I think, is to be likable. To your bosses, colleagues, opposing counsel, and CLIENTS most of all. Do good work. Have a good attitude. Take some time to get to know the people you work with, and your clients. I always try to make one non-work/task related comment to my clients each time we interact. They like me more for it, they see I'm human, and they refer work directly to me instead of others now.
  • Read the client, see what they like. One client wants a HARDCORE lawyer who is completely brutal, so that is my litigation style for them (within professional and ethical reason, of course). They have me saved in their phone as "Makes claimants cry" because I caught someone committing fraud and he broke down sobbing in my deposition. Guess who gets all of that client's work now? Another client DOES NOT want that at all, and wants me to basically just passively negotiate a number to settle and get out. So that's how I litigate for them. We are a service-oriented profession, don't forget that.

TLDR: Do good work, be a friendly person to work with, and most importantly make your clients happy.



Also, since you're not an attorney yet, keep shopping around for internships unless that's the field of law you want to practice in. Talk to attorneys in that field (facebook typically has attorney groups you can join) about what their jobs are like, what they involve, etc. Asking here is good, also check out /r/lawschool and once you've passed the bar, /r/lawyers (requires proof of license) is a good resource as well.

Keep in mind that your first 2-ish years of practice will most likely be harder and more stressful than law school, studying for the bar, or any other period in your life. It sucks, but focus on growth, improvement, and finding a solid mentor.

chortitza

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2018, 09:24:12 AM »
Thanks to both of you, I'll do what I can to find someone inside the firm that is willing to take me on as a mentee and try to build good relationships with as many people outside the firm as I can, with clients, other firms, regulators, etc.

I'm going to be in the corporate group for my firm, which is where I want to be (no desire to do litigation) but I our group doesn't have a bankruptcy/restructuring practice. Are there other areas that tend to do well during downturns and that I should either try to get into or at least build up some experience so I can make the transition if/when it is necessary?

Also, clerkships were mentioned and while my 1L grades would make me eligible for state clerkships and probably federal district courts as well, I won't be leaving my market for those opportunities and have heard mixed things about how helpful they are to non-litigators. If the resume line still matters and will be helpful, I think I'd enjoy it, but I'm hesitant to put in the time and miss out on other opportunities if the benefits are primarily the "prestige" associated with doing one.

Laura33

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2018, 10:30:47 AM »
if there's something beyond being the first one in, last one out, and doing solid work, I'm all in.

Do exceptional work.  Seriously.  Become the guy your bosses cannot live without, and you will be the last one considered for layoffs. 

I know your fears; I graduated into the '91 legal recession, and at the end of my first year, my firm laid off 50 attorneys.  Including many people with a lot more hours than me.  But I was smart and wrote very, very well and got a great review instead of a pink slip.

Otherwise, work as hard as you can without sacrificing quality.  Learn a specific skill/knowledge base that others don't have.  Find a big rainmaker and become his right-hand man -- firms will always, always follow the money, so you should, too.  You are not just looking for a mentor, you are looking for an advocate -- someone who will speak up for you at reviews, and who has sufficient power within the firm to be heard.  And then position yourself to take on all the work so that he can be lazy.  My favorite associates are the ones who make my life easy -- the ones I can just hand a matter off to, knowing that it will be done well and on time, and that the associate will come back to me as needed for questions, check-ins, etc.  You want to become that guy, which means being timely, right, in the preferred format, and with a view to the big picture (because the best research in the world is worth nothing if it doesn't help the client achieve its ultimate goal).

And then network outside your firm.  Go to lawyer events.  In particular, go to events that involve in-house and government lawyers.  Even better, present at those events.  Get yourself in front of clients to the extent you can do so without pissing off your advocate.  Because when the law firm market crashes and burns, you are far more likely to get a new job with a company or the government than at another firm -- and those are good contacts to have if you decide you want an off-ramp from firm life for any other reason.

Good luck!

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2018, 12:13:17 PM »
Excellent, excellent, excellent advice from @lexde and @Laura33.  Search my posts on here and you will find that I owe these two (and others) a great deal of gratitude for their unwavering advice and support over the years.

I have a bit of a different perspective, because my experience likely represents what you think is your worst case scenario -- no offer, what do you do for your job, etc.  If you take anything from this bit of rambling I'm about to go on (have to get to a hearing here soon) -- the worst case scenario in your head is likely nowhere close to the actual real world worst case scenario if you work hard and do great work.

So my story.  I had a 2L SA at a 100 lawyer firm that always retained its SA's.  Welp, in my summer, two of the most important partners left and...boom...all six of us SA's got no-offered (firm almost went belly up actually). 

I went back to my university (Ohio State) and sent out resumes to a bunch of firms.  All rejected.  I then worked out a grant position where OSU paid me $2,000 to work at a firm in my hometown (Youngstown...not the best market) for three months.  This added up to about $2.50 per hour.

But I worked my ass off -- in at 8:30, out at 6:00 or 6:30, which is a lot when they aren't even paying you -- and turned this into an associate position.  After three years, it led to this thread: https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/employment-dilemma-take-new-job/

First page of that thread is me deciding to leave my firm to work with what I thought was a reputable solo.  Post #37 is my first post about working with said solo. Top of Page 2 is about when shit starts hitting the fan there.  Post #82 is when it really really hit the fan (only 3ish months in). And then the rest of the thread is me going out on my own. 

So I started my own solo practice, which is what I always wanted to do anyway.  If you're thinking a similar route, you can learn a lot from that thread.

I still have my first spreadsheet from my first month of invoices.  I had nine clients.  Nine!  But I worked at my practice a lot. Worked a lot on my website and letting hometown friends know I was open. I met people, went to a bunch of bar association events, met up with friends from high school, and, as referenced a bunch of times above, always made sure to do exceptional work.

Fast-forward to my November invoices and I have 31 clients and 42 active matters.  By end of this year I will have made about $66,000 in seven months here.  Granted, this includes a couple settlement checks ($22,000 and $7,700), but hey, I worked hard for those, so bring them on.

Starting in 2019, I am getting another $22,000 settlement check, and then also another flat fee ($12,000) to try a case.  And then I do appearance work and criminal appointment work, and I might be picking up guardian ad litem work (still considering), so I'm already well, well on my way to having another good year.

Point of my story is not to brag at all.  There's solos on here who blow me out of the water.  But again, I hit "rock bottom" twice in five years -- got no offered as an SA and then ended up essentially being forced to preemptively go out on my own -- and ended up fine.

Point being, again -- the worst case scenario in your head is nowhere close to the actual real world scenario that will play out if you work hard at your craft.  Just giving a shit will put you ahead of a ton of competition.

Best of luck to you, and always feel free to PM me for advice.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 12:26:07 PM by ReadySetMillionaire »

lexde

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2018, 12:23:20 PM »
Thanks to both of you, I'll do what I can to find someone inside the firm that is willing to take me on as a mentee and try to build good relationships with as many people outside the firm as I can, with clients, other firms, regulators, etc.

I'm going to be in the corporate group for my firm, which is where I want to be (no desire to do litigation) but I our group doesn't have a bankruptcy/restructuring practice. Are there other areas that tend to do well during downturns and that I should either try to get into or at least build up some experience so I can make the transition if/when it is necessary?

Also, clerkships were mentioned and while my 1L grades would make me eligible for state clerkships and probably federal district courts as well, I won't be leaving my market for those opportunities and have heard mixed things about how helpful they are to non-litigators. If the resume line still matters and will be helpful, I think I'd enjoy it, but I'm hesitant to put in the time and miss out on other opportunities if the benefits are primarily the "prestige" associated with doing one.
I do not recommend “hedging your bets” in legal practice. While it sounds like a good idea, bankruptcy is very specialized (I practiced BK for a while) and you will be up against SWARMS of attorneys at the first sign of economic downturn.

What field are you working in or hoping for? Be good at that. Be hungry for that.

In economic downturns, people will still get hurt (PI, workers’ comp), they will still die (wrongful death, wills, trusts, and estates). They will still sue and get sued (civil litigation) and will still commit crimes (criminal defense). Maybe business or transactional work will go down. Maybe construction litigation will take a hit if there’s another construction freeze. But generally, the thing to ensure your seat at the table is to be good at what you do.

lexde

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2018, 12:26:12 PM »
@ReadySetMillionaire — Aw, thanks. :-) I definitely look up to you, and we have an awesome “MMM, Esq.” network here.  I can’t wait to see your firm’s progress in 2019!

Dee18

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2018, 12:53:45 PM »
For the summer, work hard and do good work.  Before you begin your summer position, learn all you can about the firm.  Run the firm's name through Westlaw to see recent reported cases and through google to see matters that aren't reported in cases.  Take courses in the spring semester that will prepare you for the work.  As a back up, sign up for an externship next fall.

When you arrive at the summer position, figure out who is involved in making decisions about offers.  At a larger firm, it is likely to be a committee.  Try to get to know those people.  Before turning an assignment in, proof the heck out of it.  Re-write everything.  Even if the attorney you are working for says, "I just need an informal memo on this point..." make sure there are no errors.  This probably goes without saying, but even at social events remember to be professional.  Just because the associates you are with are getting drunk doesn't mean you should.  Oh, and always, always maintain confidentiality.  Years ago a student from the law school I taught at was fired from her SA job when she mentioned a case on the elevator.  Best of luck!  It sounds like you are doing a great job planning ahead for success.

Lucky Penny Acres

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2018, 04:43:40 PM »
For a summer associate position at a law firm, the advice to get an offer is very similar for any business internship or starting position:

Be courteous to all support staff (i.e., don't be a jerk).  In addition to you just being a good person by treating everyone with respect, support staff know how the firm works and how certain partners want work product formatted, etc.  The partners have more respect for the long-term support staff than for summer associates (the big name partners likely have had the same administrative assistant for a decade or more and even if you end up full time with the firm chances are you will leave the firm first). If you treat any of the support staff terribly or act overly entitled towards them, word will reach the hiring committee and they take the views of support staff very seriously.

Proofread, proofread, proofread. Everything you do should be proofread. This applies to everything, not just formal research memos. Even if you make a mistake of law or misstate a fact, grammatical and spelling errors always stand out. Take the extra time to re-read even casual emails before sending them. As a law student, they don't expect you to know all of the details of the law - but they do expect you to take the time and be careful with things that are within your control (such as spelling and grammar). This also applies to formatting documents - send formal documents to the firm's word processing department (or do it yourself if you are skilled with Word, etc.) to fix formatting. Documents should look clean with appropriate margins, no hanging headers, no misaligned lists, etc. One helpful tip before turning in work product (if you have enough time before the deadline) is to print a hard copy and just page through it to look for any obvious formatting errors.

Ask Questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions. They know that you don't know what you are doing. Every time you get an assignment, ask for as many specifics as possible. Ask for background on the client / matter. Ask specifically what work product they want produced (e.g., a research assignment could result in a list of cases, simple email summary, or a full blue-booked research memo). Ask if they have any samples you could start with. Ask how long they expect it to take and when they want you to check back with them. If you have questions during the project, do the following in this general order: 1) try to figure out the answer logically on your own, 2) ask other summer associates, 3) ask junior associates / support staff at the firm who might know the answer, and 4) then ask the assigning attorney. While questions are expected, some attorneys want to see that you tried to solve it yourself first. Generally, try to get your questions answered from the most junior person who has the relevant answer. Also, work through as much as possible first so you can approach the appropriate party with your entire list of questions at once instead of asking questions on a piecemeal basis throughout the day - this helps you interrupt other attorneys less often which they will appreciate.

Never miss a deadline.  Most deadlines for summer associate work product are made up. However, never, ever miss a deadline. If you think you are going to miss a deadline, tell the assigning attorney as soon as you know. They should never become aware that you missed a deadline at or after the deadline. Most likely, they will understand that you have other responsibilities and give you more time to complete the project, but you have to tell them in advance and ask for an extension.

Attend the summer associate events. If the firm has events for summer associates (e.g., lunches, dinners, shows, etc.), attend as many as you can while still completing your work on time. Work should always take priority, but the firm also wants to see that you are sociable and a good colleague to hang out with. If it looks like work will cause you to miss an event, check in with your assigning attorney and ask them whether the work can be delayed until the next day - they are usually willing to accommodate the extension. Socializing is important, but don't get too drunk or become remembered for the wrong thing. If you have a big summer associate event, you don't want to become known for doing cocaine in the bathroom, getting too drunk and dancing on the table, or flipping over a golf cart.

Contact People in Person. In addition to attending the events, when you ask questions of attorneys who are in your same office location, do it in person instead of via phone or email. You want people to be able to associate your name and face as it sticks longer in their memory compared to someone they only interacted with via email and phone. When the hiring committee meets, you want them to be able to remember who you are (and have a good impression).

Keep your Supervising Attorney in the Loop. If you are working on a project or expecting some work to come in during the evening, check with your supervising attorney before you leave the office. Do not just go home without letting them know.  For projects with longer deadlines or multiple pieces, keep the supervising attorney apprised as to your progress periodically.

Act Interested. Even if a project does not seem interesting to you, act like you are interested and it is the most interesting project you have ever done. Take notes on the client background to show you are listening. Appear excited and happy to help out in any way you can.

Kayad

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2018, 07:20:37 PM »
I bailed on Biglaw ASAP, but for what its worth:  For the summer, I'd tell you that it is about your work product bu also whether people like working with you/would be comfortable having you interact with clients. 

So for that summer, better to be the sociable guy who does good work than the weird guy who is always in his office working.

Then once you get the job, you can work 15 hour days until you drop...

Nice work coming out of law school with only 25k in debt!  I'm 7 years out of law school and still have more debt than that.

ReadySetMillionaire

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #11 on: December 11, 2018, 02:07:49 PM »
Act Interested. Even if a project does not seem interesting to you, act like you are interested and it is the most interesting project you have ever done. Take notes on the client background to show you are listening. Appear excited and happy to help out in any way you can.

Still lots of good advice, but just wanted to chime in that the above is really important.

I was doing pretty well at my firm until they shoveled a seven-year-old commercial foreclosure case my way.  You want to talk about a miserable, disorganized, absolutely massive, and honestly pointless file?  It was this case.

Unfortunately for me, I let my thoughts be known about the file, that I thought it was silly to not work something out and just sell the property, etc.  And that pissed off a few partners, and then boom, I started hearing rumors, and blah blah.

So ya, act interested no matter what the case.

chortitza

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Re: new attorney looking for career advice
« Reply #12 on: December 11, 2018, 05:25:28 PM »
Hi all,

Thank you so much for the suggestions and perspective, everyone. I really do appreciate it! It sounds like in many ways the legal field isn't that different from other professions. Do excellent work, be fun to spend time with, treat others respectfully, and make sure you're working for/with the "right" people. While I've been fortunate to have that work for me in the past, I realize I'm starting all over again and it's good to have a somewhat familiar path ahead of me.

Looking forward to getting out there at the firm, building up the 'stache a bit, and then transitioning to something that, while still legal, is a bit more in line with my professional/family goals.

If anyone has more to share, or suggestions for resources to use while summering and starting out, I'd be grateful. Hoping to get off on the right foot and join you all on what is, hopefully, a rewarding path to FIRE! :)