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10 Tips for Your First Year at the Firm
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Summary: Starting your first year at a law firm? Check out our 10 tips for success.


The air is crisp, football’s in full swing, and we’re already tired of girls in uggs ordering pumpkin spiced lattes. Congratulations on surviving the bar exam; it’s time to start your career as a lawyer.

As a first-year associate, you will be busy. At times you’ll even be very, incredibly busy. You’ll make friends, influence people, and have amazing experiences. You will also face exhausting days and new challenges.

To ease your transition, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips for newbie lawyers. Knock ‘em dead.

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1. Put it on the calendar. You don’t want to no-show a client call or department meeting your first year. Mark every single meeting, conference call, and CLE class on your calendar. Extra credit for including your rent due date and your mom’s birthday. You’re going to be busy; the calendar will be your friend.

2. Post an active matter list. Transactional attorneys often have 5, 10, or even 15 deals going at once. Litigation associates also juggle multiple cases. To save time, pin a list of active matters over your desk. Under each matter write (a) the matter number, (b) your client contact’s name and phone number, and (c) the extensions of everyone working on it at your firm.

3. Keep a suit, toothbrush, and deodorant in your office. You never know when you’ll have to pull an all-nighter or head to a meeting or hearing. Always expect the Spanish Inquisition.

4. Be nice to the little people. Tell your paralegal he did a good job. Bring your secretary a coffee. It will boost everyone’s spirits, plus you’ll foster loyalty and good will. Someday you will find yourself exhausted, frazzled, and desperately trying to close a deal or submit a brief. If they love you, your paralegals and secretary will go the extra mile to carry you across the finish line. Appreciate your team and treat them well.

5. Record your hours before leaving the office. Write down your billable hours each and every day. If you don’t have time to input everything into the computer, jot it down on a post-it note. Then slap the note to the side of your computer so you can log it by the end of the week. (You’ll thank me later).

6. Ask for help. Especially if you mess something up. Law is like birth control; the more you do it, the more you’re going to slip up. When you make a mistake (which you will), don’t cover it up. Ask a senior associate for advice or ‘fess up to a partner. And take a deep breath: There’s a work-around for almost every mistake. In fact, mistakes are great opportunities for growth. Take responsibility, listen, and learn.

7. See a financial advisor. Max out your 401K. Pay off your student loans. Set up an automatic bank transfer to move money into your savings account and mutual fund each month. The more you save now, the more options you’ll have later.

8. Skim the news. It’s a good idea to keep up with the news. It will help you understand the legal industry and make small-talk on the elevator. But if you’re like most of us, reading the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times cover-to-cover each morning isn’t an option. Subscribe to a couple news composites instead. Check out The Skimm, which emails you a short newsletter with the world’s biggest headlines each morning:

9. Ask for samples. When a senior attorney asks you to compile a closing checklist or mark up reps and warranties, ask for a sample or two. Study the examples and emulate them as closely as possible. File the best ones away for future use.

10. Slip out of the office at least once a day for a quick walk, coffee, or snack. Or better yet, close your office door and have a mini dance party. This will help you keep your sanity, and will make you a more productive employee in the long-run.

If you liked this article, check out our memo to associates: Don’t Follow Advice on Above the Law.

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