Congratulations, you have graduated from law school, passed the bar and landed your first job. Not too long ago, you were cramming for exams and contemplating what type of law you were most interested in practicing. OK, perhaps, you were diligently outlining every weekend while daydreaming of what it felt like to put all of the theory you learned in law school to use. Every lawyer's journey will be different. But every lawyer must realize that at some point he is in charge of his own career. You should start taking proactive steps for long-term success in your first year. All first-year associates intend to work hard, challenge themselves and learn the individual nuances of their chosen practice area. However, first-year associates should also consider the ideas and opportunities listed below. All of these ideas and opportunities will allow you to place yourself in a position for long-term success within your first year.
Accept That Failure Precedes Success
All lawyers should strive for perfection because our clients and the profession demand it. However, achieving perfection does not happen overnight. Your particular field of law will include a learning curve that can take months if not years to conquer. Realizing that failure precedes success will help you to accept the constructive criticism a partner or fellow associate may provide to you on a memo, brief, or motion, even if it literally bleeds with red ink. It will also help you to realize that getting to where your boss is in his or her career was a marathon, not a sprint. Throughout this marathon, mistakes will happen. Own these mistakes and learn from them. It will only make you a better attorney the next time you encounter a similar issue, which will inevitably occur.
Volunteer to Help a Partner with Challenging Work
Taking charge of your career requires you to be proactive. If you hear that a big case has come in, and you are low on work, ask the attorney who has the case if you can work on it. This may result in you doing document review, which is not the most stimulating task. But, this is a marathon, not a sprint, remember? Plus, in order for a partner to feel comfortable assigning you more difficult tasks, you must first master the simple tasks. Real trust is not built overnight.
Additionally, you can request to sit in on depositions, oral arguments and mediations. Most likely at some point in the future it will be your turn to take the deposition, argue a motion or participate in a mediation. Although as a first-year associate it is unlikely you will play the lead role in any of these tasks, you should arrive at the deposition, hearing or mediation aware of the relevant facts and issues. Also, pay attention and take notes. This way you will understand why the partner or associate did or said something. After the deposition, hearing or mediation, think about what you believe did and did not work for the partner or associate. If what did work for them fits your style and personality, add it to your arsenal. Don't forget to ask the partner or associate why he or she did what they did. That way, when it is your turn to do these tasks in the future, you will be prepared.
Seek Out Pro Bono Work
Depending on your firm and area of practice, you may not see the inside of a courtroom in your first year. As a result, seeking out pro bono work is a good opportunity to gain invaluable litigation experience, which could ultimately lead to trial work. If you would like to gain experience arguing motions in federal court, joining one of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania's voluntary attorney panels is a great option. Currently the Eastern District has voluntary civil rights and employment law panels. Through these panels you will be responsible for drafting complaints, drafting motions, arguing motions, and potentially putting on a trial. Being familiar and comfortable with these tasks is beneficial to any lawyer regardless of whether you are a litigator or a transactional attorney. Finally, don't forget that by participating in these panels you are giving back and aiding a client who would not have access to an attorney without your services.
Join a Professional Organization
Take some time and search for a professional organization that fits your interests and is related to the field of law you practice. Once you find an organization, join it and do your best to attend meetings regularly. Regular attendance will make it easier for you to develop organic relationships with other members. In addition, professional organizations allow you to meet other attorneys who share similar interests. These attorneys can potentially serve as resources for your practice in the future.
Develop Your Five-Year Plan
Associates at all levels should have a five year plan. This five-year plan should contain different goals that you intend to achieve at various points over the next five years. These goals will allow you to consistently monitor where you are and what goals you still hope to achieve. While there is no guarantee that things will go exactly as you planned or that you will hit every goal over the next five years, identifying what you want is half the battle. It allows you to stay focused on the long term goal no matter what roadblocks appear in your way.
As I said, there is not one direct path to success. Everyone's journey will be different. But regardless of where your journey leads you, these steps will allow you to position yourself for long-term success in your first year. Best of luck! •