5 Easy Steps to a Successful Legal Practice

Thrive: A New Lawyer's Guide to Law Firm PracticeToday we’re thrilled to welcome back Desiree Moore, founder of Greenhorn Legal and Greenhorn Bold, for a guest post on starting off right in your legal career. And, of course, to celebrate the launch of her new book on the same topic!

Thrive – A New Lawyer’s Guide To Law Firm Practice

In my new book, Thrive – A New Lawyer’s Guide To Law Firm Practice (American Bar Association, 2012), I take an in-depth look at all of the things you can do as a new lawyer to build a successful legal career from day one. Among other things, your mindset, professionalism, time management and organizational skills, and ability to work well with staff and other attorneys will contribute to your success in the early years of your career.

While each chapter in the book is carefully crafted to support you and your career, there are 5 distinct steps – or themes – that recur throughout the book that are fundamental to success in any legal practice environment. The good news? These are easy to implement and will reflect that you are a diligent, competent, impressive lawyer from day one.

1. Learn the Unspoken Code of Professionalism in Your Firm or Office

As a new lawyer, while you may not be adept at performing many of the substantive skills that your practice requires, acting in a professional manner at all times and in all instances is within your skill set and absolutely mandatory. Demonstrate by your attire, demeanor, and interpersonal skills that you understand the significance of professionalism in a legal practice environment. Your success truly depends on it.

More importantly, observe – and learn – the unspoken code of professionalism in your particular firm or office. Every legal practice differs as to expectations of professionalism and it is your job as a new lawyer in the office to pick up on this and to emulate the type of professionalism that is expected. In the early weeks and months of your practice, before you are certain as to what is expected of you, err on the side of dressing and acting in an extra-professional manner. If you learn over time that your office is more relaxed or that certain attorneys take a more casual approach to practice, you can always modify your approach. Remember, however, that you will never be criticized for being too professional (on the other hand, you run the risk of developing a negative reputation for not acting professionally enough).

2. Find a Mentor

No matter what job you get out of law school, over time, your success in your legal practice will depend on the community of mentors you have built to support and advocate for you in your career. One of the first things you should do when you begin any legal practice is to get to know the people in your practice and get a sense of who might be a good person to connect with as you face the daily challenges a legal practice inevitably presents.

As a guideline, look for someone who works in your office (and knows the ins and outs of your office), is sociable (to introduce you to others), reasonably busy (to give you work when you are slow), trustworthy (so your confidences will be kept), and has worked at your office for at least 5 years (you don’t want advice from someone who is learning the ropes himself).

3. Define Your Relationship with Your Administrative Assistant

Early on, and particularly if you have not had a corporate job before, working with an administrative assistant can present its own unique challenges. It is important to set a positive tone and a strong working relationship from the outset. To do this, you will have to define the relationship up front.

Your relationship with your administrative assistant (whether you have a personal or an office-wide assistant) should be cordial and respectful. It is never OK to talk down to or otherwise disrespect your administrative assistant (this is also a terrible career move – many administrative assistants are extremely well connected to upper management and top practitioners in their offices).

Your relationship should also be business-like. You will want to feel comfortable asking your administrative assistant for help when you need it. If you do not politely assert yourself from the beginning, it will be a struggle to change the nature of the relationship later on. As a tip, ask your administrative assistant for help in a straightforward, clear way. Give specific instructions and a set deadline. Instead of posing a question (“Would it be possible for you to help me index this brief today?”), seek out help in the form of a statement (“This brief will need to be indexed by 3:00 pm today.”). Let your assistant tell you if there is some reason the project or deadline is not feasible – otherwise, assume that it is.

4. Build Meaningful Relationships with Your Colleagues

From the outset, you will want to build meaningful relationships with the attorneys you are working with. This includes colleagues in your age-range all the way through to the most senior lawyers in your office. Learn a little about who they are and find reasons to reach out from time to time (maybe you know of a sports team your colleague likes or a hobby he’s into – if you see an article or something that may be of interest, don’t hesitate to reach out).

Anytime you find yourself in conversation with a colleague, make efforts to be engaging, interesting, and knowledgeable. Beyond this, view every interaction – from a casual interaction in the hallway to the more formal interaction of getting an assignment – as an opportunity to develop connections and increase your circle of advocates and supporters in your office.

5. Develop A Routine

Both in and outside of the office, in order to be a successful attorney, you have to develop a routine that is comfortable for you. Now, this routine will not be a hard and fast one – a legal practice can be unpredictable and so your routine will not be exactly the same every day. But, you will want to figure out the best ways to get work done and also enjoy time with your friends and family outside of the office.

Do you work well in the mornings? Do you get the most work done late at night? Whatever your practice habits, craft a working schedule that ensures you are getting all of your work done in a timely, efficient manner, and that also allows you to get out of the office from time to time.

In order to be a healthful, well-rounded practitioner, you will have to do more than work yourself into the ground. For the sake of a long, prosperous career, you will have to find balance in your professional and personal life. Build out the best way to do this. Give your work the attention it deserves when you are at the office, but when you leave for the day, be sure to leave.

Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Ms. Moore is the author of the new book Thrive – A New Lawyer’s Guide to Law Firm Practice, published by the American Bar Association. Pick up a copy here! She can be reached via email at desiree@greenhornlegal.com or on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.

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Thanks, Desiree! Having read Thrive, I can say it’s a very useful resource for any young associate.

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