Reprinted with permission from the September 22, 2015 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
While attending law school in the evenings, I was a teacher, coach and dorm resident for a college preparatory school. When my students attended study hall, I often did the same, preparing both for my law school classes and the African-American history course I taught to seniors. Of course, seeing me prepare for law school on a nightly basis sparked curiosity in many of my students—so much so that 15 years later I still receive calls from former students who attend, graduated or plan to go to law school. I receive at least three calls a year from students seeking advice, particularly from those who are beginning their legal careers.
The beauty about teaching while I was in law school was that I had summers off. Luckily, I was able to "summer" at Pepper Hamilton in 1999. I then became an associate in the fall of 2000 and a partner in 2010. In addition, I am the firm's partner in charge of diversity, a member of the associates committee, and a mentor. Accordingly, between the students I taught in the late '90s and current associates, I spend a good deal of time sharing my experiences of working at a large law firm.
I have put together a list of rules I find helpful for new lawyers. While this list is not exhaustive, I think they are important rules to follow. Keep them in an accessible place and add to them as you begin your career.
Work Product Must Be Perfect
There is no substitution for great work product. Without perfection, the other items on this list become moot. Perfect work product goes beyond just error-free work. You must make sure you understand the assignment, what is expected as a final product, and when and how the product should be delivered. Every work product you turn in goes onto your resume, which will travel with you, particularly within a law firm.
Take Ownership of All Your Matters
You must know the facts, know the documents, know the witnesses and parties, and know the law. While doing so you make yourself indispensable. Put simply, imagine that you are a solo practitioner and that every assignment, question or project must be treated like you are the only attorney on the case and that your client is depending only on you.
Offer Solutions, Not Just Problems
Always offer your well-reasoned solutions to problems. Never identify problems and expect your more senior attorneys to solve them. Don't be afraid to be wrong; it's more important to use those analytical and problem-solving skills that got you the job.
Know the Law, Not Just Cases
Your research must be thorough. You must know the law, not just a couple of cases with good quotes. Follow the trail of cases—know the major cases cold and why they support or hinder your client's case. It is always good practice to cite cases that hold the way your client wants. If not, you should have a good reason for using such cases. Quotes are good, but context and results will mean more in the long run.
Practicing law is a relationship business. The more your senior lawyers get to know you, the more opportunities will flow your way. Everyone makes mistakes, but your relationships and your history with your supervising attorneys may make your recovery from mistakes easier.
You will not develop relationships and grow your reputation within a firm by staying in your office. If your office is in a location where no one sees you, consider moving to a more central location. Opportunities often present themselves based on proximity.
Don't Say No
If you say no, you run the risk of not being asked again. This goes for assignments, events, lunches and more. Your partners want to count on you. If you are in a bind, find a clever way to take a raincheck. Never allow someone to take you off of their "go-to" list by turning down an opportunity.
Treat Staff With Respect
Staff can often be a great resource. Treat them with respect and always get them on your side.
Be a Leader
Don't just join organizations or committees. Seek leadership opportunities in those organizations and committees.
Budget Your Money
Live as though you make half of your salary and save the rest. It will make life decisions easier down the line.
The material in this publication was created as of the date set forth above and is based on laws, court decisions, administrative rulings and congressional materials that existed at that time, and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinions on specific facts. The information in this publication is not intended to create, and the transmission and receipt of it does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship.