These are 13 things I think all associates should know when starting out in a firm. I hope they help you along your way to becoming a dynamic attorney.
- Respect your Firm. Your firm’s reputation has taken years to establish or is just getting started but either way its reputation is important. Keep in mind that how you act with people in business and social settings can affect the firm’s reputation.
- Respect the Staff. The staff is your most valuable asset. Many times they know more than us and can help you a great deal. As attorneys we sometimes get so busy we forget to “be nice” when asking for help but it really goes a long way.
- Respect the Courts. The court staff is your second most valuable asset. They decide when your hearing is set, when your case is set, help you when you make a mistake, and have the Judge’s ear. Remember the Judge hired them, not some personnel manager. Don’t be dismissive or complain about or to court staff. They aren’t going anywhere and anything you tell them goes straight back to the Judge. Also don’t ever bad mouth opposing counsel because they might just be good friends with the Judge.
- Look the Part. As attorneys we need to set an example for our staff, which means dressing like a professional. When you dress casual, it gives the staff and other attorneys the impression that you don’t take your job seriously. So if you wouldn’t wear it to court then don’t wear it to the office.
- Just do it. When a partner of the firm asks you to handle legal work for them, you just do it. You find a way without making excuses! When you are asked to work on something, then find out when the attorney wants it and when the absolute deadline is so you can plan accordingly. Then get it done.
- You are never 100% right. When a senior attorney asks you a legal question that you are not 100% sure of (which is always) say “I think …..________(fill in the blank with what you think) but let me confirm that for you.” Then go confirm it because the law may have changed since the last time you looked at the issue and you would never want to steer an attorney in the wrong direction.
- Being busy is no substitute for being productive. Billable hours are important, but the most valued associates are those who not only bill, but get the job done correctly. Be a finisher.
- Don’t make excuses. You may get an occasional unfair review, or you may not get along with a particular partner, but law firms are meritocracies. You must own up to your shortcomings, failures and disappointments and learn from them.
- Be the associate everyone thinks they need. You have no idea how much partners value good associates and detest bad associates. They always notice a bad attitude, how you treat the staff, subpar work or a disinterest in your job.
- Learn to develop your own clients. You’ll never develop clients sitting behind your desk. You may not consider yourself a “schmoozer” or think that networking is important. Get over it. So you were told that generating business is not important as an associate? How do you think you’re going to stack up when being reviewed against your colleague with a book of business? If you don’t know how to get started, ask someone!
- Office Hours mean something! If the office has set hours then make sure you are ALWAYS in the office during that time, no exceptions! Otherwise how can a senior attorney utilize you?
- Take vacations. Enjoy your time off, recharge your batteries, and reconnect with family and friends. Just kick butt before you leave and when you get back! Make sure the managing partner and any other attorneys you work with on a regular basis knows you are out but always reachable.
- Stay confident. You are going to screw something up because no one is perfect. You may get reprimanded for it, but you need to stay confident and aggressive. A timid, defensive-minded lawyer will be stressed out, dislike her job and not be very good at it.
I was recently asked a specific question as to how the Transfer on Death deed affects the spouses homestead rights.
Example: A party is married and they execute a transfer on death deed to their children on their separate property which is their homestead.
The deed would not displace the spouse at death because the homestead right is attached to the separate property and community property. Therefore, while the children might own the property upon their parent’s death, the spouse has the right to live in the house.