Congratulations! You’ve passed the bar – maybe you even have a job lined up, and you’re about to jump head-first into the world of family law. There is a steep learning curve, but don’t get discouraged. There are a lot of things that you can do to prepare for your new career. Here’s a list of five tips any experienced lawyer wishes they had known when they first started out.
It’s great that you’re a qualified lawyer, but you need to realize that you still have a lot to learn. Treat the first few years of practice as an extended apprenticeship. The first rule of any apprenticeship is to listen. Listen to your mentors and partners in your firm – What do they know that you don’t? What can you learn from their experience? Listen to the paralegals and secretaries who have been there longer than you – What do they know that you may not? How can you work best with them? Listen to the judges in the courtrooms you will visit – how do they run their courtrooms? What are their personal values? How do they decide a case? Listen to opposing counsel – Can you work with them? Can you save time and money for your client? And of course, listen to your client – What are their objectives? What is their primary concern? If you make a concerted effort to actively listen to everyone around you, your first few years of practice will be hugely gratifying.
2. Live Outside Your Comfort Zone
If you’re a new attorney, the majority of things you will be doing will be brand new. The law is vast, so the only constant will be learning new laws and skills which may be a bit frightening. Embrace the fear! Take on and try new challenges even if they are outside of your comfort zone. It will expand your horizons and allow you to become a more well-rounded attorney and individual. Of course, there is one caveat – do not take a case for which you are not actually competent. It is one thing to be a family lawyer who is tackling a complex estate matter, provided you have the resources and support to see it through, but it is another thing to be a family lawyer who decides to take on a white-collar criminal defense jury trial. Learn to see the difference, and when you do, take on even the most challenging cases with confidence.
3. Become an Expert
There is a reason it is called the practice of law. Law is a skill that requires consistent practice and education. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself in the legal profession is to apply this attitude of dedication to a particular, niche topic and become an expert. Perhaps you’re interested in cross-border jurisdictional questions – make this your expertise. Also, since you have recently graduated, you may likely be on the younger and more tech savvy side compared to other current lawyers. Technology is important in any industry, and because of your familiarity with it, you can also find your niche and expertise in staying up-to-date with the cutting edge of new technology to use in custody cases. For example, Soberlink, which is a device that monitors alcohol use for child custody matters, is a great tool to become an expert in for family law cases. Regardless of what you choose to specialize in, your knowledge will make you invaluable in your region and field of law as your career progresses.
4. Think Like an Entrepreneur
Practicing law is a business, and your clients are your customers. Develop a plan to drive your business and make an effort to attend local networking events. Work closely with other business owners and be proactive in thinking of ways that you can help them, rather than competing with them. This will open new doors and connections that lead to clients. Remember that you only have one reputation – once it is gone, you cannot get it back.
5. Ask for Help
You’re a new lawyer – of course, you aren’t going to know everything. Asking for clarification on a point of law or procedure is not a sign of weakness. In fact, your superiors will probably prefer that you ask a question that you think is silly rather than having to redo hours of work or even get a memo that is just flat out wrong. This goes for ethical quandaries as well. If you have a concern that something you’re about to do is not in line with the ethical rules of your state bar, there are multiple resources you can consult before proceeding. There have been many occasions that young lawyers felt too intimidated to ask for help, to their detriment. Once you ask for help, go back to step 1 and listen.
About the Author
Danielle Prado, an experienced family lawyer licensed in Texas, England, and Wales.