November 19, 2018

My First Week as a Lawyer

What to expect your first week as a practicing lawyer and what to expect when starting a new job at a law firm. Advice for first year associates. First day at law firm. What does a first year associate do. First law job. First year as a lawyer. What my first week as a baby lawyer was like and what it's like to work as a lawyer. How many hours a week does a lawyer work? Is being a lawyer like being in law school? Is being a lawyer harder than law school? What it's like to be a practicing attorney. How to prepare for your first day at a law firm. What to do with your first legal client. lawyer blog. first year associate blog | brazenandbrunette.com

Hello everyone! In case you missed it, I am now a licensed, practicing attorney!! Honestly it is such a sigh of relief to be able to say that. Law school graduation was great (post about that coming soon!), but I wouldn't allow myself to celebrate just yet. Even after I took the Bar, we all went out that night but that was all the celebration I allowed myself. Because all this summer, I knew that I truly hadn't accomplished my goals. I didn't let myself exhale that sigh of relief until everything was signed, sealed, and delivered. So now after literal months of holding it all in, I can finally say I'm an attorney!! It's just a good feeling to be filling out some mundane forms and get to put "lawyer" as my occupation instead of "student."

Okay enough rambling about that haha. I just haven't done a "diary" blog post in a while and life lately feels like a big enough event for me to live-blog about it. It figure it'll be fun for me to have in a decade to look back on, and nice for y'all to have to look forward to. Maybe this is a good time for y'all to be reading this post because I know finals are looming around, so take this as a reminder of the light at the end of the tunnel. It's a very long tunnel, but I promise it's worth it.

Related: How to establish your personal brand at your firm

My first impressions of being a lawyer

So my first day at the firm wasn't too off from what you'd expect. If you've seen Suits, a lot of my first day was like Mikes first day... meeting my coworkers, learning who helps me and who I'm to help, and learning how the firm operates. Basically, the first few hours of my day were pretty typical and not that exciting. But one thing that I've experienced at this job and my externship is that the best way for you to learn, is to do. AKA baptism by fire. 

Starting at a law firm is kinda a lot like starting law school. It's scary because you are suddenly very convinced that you're an absolute idiot, that you're destined to screw things up royally, and that someone really messed up when they let you in. But it's also very exciting because you're like holy shit I'm a lawyer (or law student)!! I'm here! I'm doing it!! I hope everyone who's ever talked shit on me sees my life event in their Facebook timeline so they know I'm actually doing something with my life haha. Basically yeah, a lot of conflicting emotions.

The good news is that my first day as a lawyer was much easier than my first day as a law student (so there's hope for you!!). Most lawyers hated the socratic method and they let that die after law school, so while your co-workers and boss might ask you questions to see what you're retaining, they're much more straight forward. I still get nervous when someone quizzes me on something, even if it's an easy question, because, just like law school, you put this pressure on yourself to not mess up. 

One hard thing about starting law school is that everyone around you is brand new to this too, so if you ask them questions, it's the blind leading the blind. Or worse, people make law school a competition so even if they know the answer, they won't help you. As a lawyer, you'll be surrounded by people who have been doing this for years so they can actually help you. And even better, it's in their best interest that they help you. Because if you screw up, it makes the whole firm look bad, and if the firm looks bad, then they look bad. I mean, obviously there's the chance that there will be other fresh-faced lawyers hired along with you or a petty coworker who doesn't want to help you, but overall you should have more people to turn to who can actually help you. 

And let's just get this out of the way- no, I don't work 9-5. I work 7:30-6 actually. And I have a work laptop at home for catching up on the weekends or evenings. That sounds like a lot, but for me the day actually really flies by because I'm so busy all day. And the working from home isn't necessarily mandatory, just like reviewing your outlines in October isn't necessarily mandatory. It's mostly just to help you in the long run because you're staying on top of your to-do list. And at least right now if I do work from home, it's just a quick little thing to get ready for the next day, so don't be too intimidated yet. It is a big adjustment because while I always felt busy in law school, it was my schedule. So if I truly wanted to say fuck this reading I'm going to go take a nap because I slept terribly last night, I could. But at a job, it's no longer your schedule. It's just another adjustment, like how you had to go from practically doing no work in college to working your ass off in law school. 

My first clients as a lawyer

On day one I got my first client and honestly I did not know what to do with this client. This particular case was passed down to me from another attorney because it was pretty low-profile and essentially I couldn't mess it up. That was relieving for me to hear because the entire time my first day I just kept hoping that I wouldn't be completely incompetent and make the partner question why he hired me. What everyone says is right, as a baby lawyer you really do know nothing.

Here's a quick list of a few things to do once you get a new client:

  1. Review their file. Figure out everything that has gone on up until today. Take notes on what you've learned so you can reference them later because you never know how long you'll have this client. Think of it like the facts part of your case brief. This might be billable hours so check with your firm about this.
  2. Call and introduce yourself to them. Give them your contact information and ask if they have any updates on their case. Again, make sure you know if this is billable or not because firms don't like it if you do something that qualifies as billable but you don't bill for it.
Billable hours is still something I'm getting used to because it's a weird concept for me. Like I definitely bill more per hour than I make per hour. But also, I work more in a day than I bill for. So even with a high billable rate, you still might not make your firm that much money in the beginning because most of your day is just learning how to function instead of doing billable hours. You also have to learn what is/isn't billable and how long do you bill for something. Just this week I called and tried to do step #2 above and they were like hey I'm driving can you just send me this in an email and so I had to find out, do I bill for the call or the email or both?? 

Back to the client... there's a lot more steps but I feel like after this it could really change depending on the kind of law you practice and how your firm operates. The easiest way to find the rest of the steps is just to ask the friendliest looking person what do you do once you get a new client??? This is exactly what I did and now I have a little checklist saved to my computer of 9 steps to do and in what order and what is/isn't billed for.

This is something I did at my last job and suggest that you do, too. I literally am writing a "how to be a lawyer at this firm" instruction manual to myself. Then when I forget what I'm supposed to do, I can reference this instead of bothering someone and solve my own problems. I also like it because it trains me to get in the habit of doing things the right way and making sure I'm doing everything I'm supposed to be doing and not leaving out a step on my checklist. And eventually when a new lawyer joins our firm down the line, I can just send him/her my little guide and help them out!

The hardest part of being a new lawyer

So far, the hardest part of my journey of being a new lawyer is just not knowing what's going on in a lot of situations. For example, this is my first ever real job so when I was told to pick out a new chair for my office, I didn't know what price range of chairs I should be looking at. Or I signed up for TSA pre-check since we travel a lot for my job, and didn't even think about how that would be something my firm would reimburse me for. 

Another struggle I've had is when people pop in to my office offering to answer any questions I might have, and I don't have any questions because at this point I'm so new I don't even know what I don't know yet. But then I get frustrated because I know it doesn't look good if I'm not asking questions and I'm not learning anything by not asking questions. However, I'm not allowing myself to stress out too much because I know within the next few months as I start to figure out what I'm doing, I'll have a lot more questions for my co-workers.

I'll be honest, it is hard finding a balance between I need to figure out how to do this on my own because I'm a grown-ass adult with a law license and it just took me 2 hours to find a word document that would've taken me 5 minutes if I've asked someone so I just wasted 1/4th of my day looking for a document... A very important lesson I learned at my last job is to try to do things on your own, but pay attention to how much time you're doing this and put a limit on yourself. It's better to try to do something on your own before you ask someone, but remember things are trickier with billable hours. So if you did waste 2 hours looking for a document, either you're going to have to bill your client for that and they're going to be pissed and think you're just running the bill up on them, or you're not going to bill your client and your boss is going to be pissed that you were wasting your time and therefor costing the firm billable hours.

Oh, this brings me to another point that I know you're all dying to know... No, your first job isn't going to expect you to know what you're doing. I mean obviously they expect you to be competent and learn quickly, but they knew when they hired you that you just graduated from law school and likely haven't even been licensed for long. I've had some great advice about how to approach your first law job: it doesn't matter if you make a million mistakes so long as you don't make the same mistake twice. So when you start to feel embarrassed because you have to keep asking for help on something, just remind yourself of that. I understand not wanting to be an annoying burden, so one thing I try to do is rotate through who I ask questions so that each person only gets like my every 10th question instead of every single question.
let's be friends!

2 comments:

  1. I love this post, please keep sharing your insights as a new baby lawyer! I am so excited to be where you are in a year and a half-ish but also so terrified because I feel like I can't possibly learn enough in such a short time to actually know what is going on.

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  2. Loved the post! So excited for your Bar Prep posts and more of the baby lawyer ones!! :)

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