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Most lateral attorneys are not given an orientation when they start at a new law firm and are left to figure out how things work at the new firm on their own. Here are the top 10 tips for attorneys that are starting new jobs.
1. TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN ABOUT THE FIRM
Get to know your coworkers and allow them to get to know you. Ask other attorneys to lunch and find out what their practice areas are. When you meet someone at the coffee station or water cooler, find out what kind of work they do. Read up on firm victories and follow your colleagues' outside activities.
One of the biggest challenges is trying to get to know people and keeping them all straight. If there are firm histories, department newsletters, other publicity or information about the firm, read them. In addition, take advantage of opportunities to meet firm clients and interact with partners.
If there is a firm reception for clients - even if it is not in your practice area - go. You will know someone - even if it is the firm caterer whom you have already befriended. Introduce yourself to someone standing alone and strike up a conversation. Use this as an opportunity to get to know some of the firm's clients as well as partners.
Unless hired to replace a specific individual in a distinct practice area, you may find yourself "up for grabs" for the first time since you were a first-year. As the new kid on the block, you'll find many partners will want to check you out to see "what you've got" and, more importantly, what you can do for them.
Although it is hard to say "no" to an assignment as a new person, do so when you have to; don't become overextended early on. If things are slow for the first few days, use the time to get settled and learn about the firm. Believe me, soon people will start knowing you are at the firm, and the e-mail and voicemail assignments will start arriving.
As you complete assignments, if you liked working for a partner, let her or him know it and ask for more work. If there is a firm practice area or case that interests you, seek out the partner in charge. If your firm does not have a formal mentoring process, find out who is supervising you and whether you need to check in with certain people before accepting work from others.
Also, it is very important to try and do the work you are best at. Try and seek out partners and others who value the work you are best at and enjoy doing the most.
"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
Maybe you were on your best behavior during the interview or toned yourself down for your first few weeks. You cannot be afraid to be yourself as a lateral. If you are constantly putting on a front, you will never relax, and you won't do your best work. If your co-workers do not like you for who you are, then chances are you made a mistake and don't belong there.
Be efficient, meet your deadlines, proof your work, check style and form, ask for feedback, edit and polish, and be prepared. Remember, you now have to get used to new styles, so be prepared to be edited. You may encounter frustrated grammarians who love to leave red pen marks on paper. So, even though your form interrogatories have led you through years of successful discovery, be prepared to do it "the firm's way" or to the specifications of the individual partner you happen to be working for that day.
5. GET ALL OF THE DETAILS BEFORE YOU ACCEPT THE OFFER
This may seem elementary, but do not wait until you are sitting at your new desk to find out just what kind of work you will be doing and for and with whom.
Don't wait until you are filling out your W-4 form to find out about salary, bonuses and benefits, bar memberships, partnership track, billing requirements and expectations about your business development.
You can make an informed decision only by asking the questions that are important to you - and getting the answers - before you accept the offer.
6. GET YOURSELF SETTLED
After you start at the new firm, get settled as soon as possible by unpacking and setting up your office. You know what you need in order to do good work, so make sure you are organized, have desk supplies, letterhead and business cards.
If there are special supplies you need to do your job, ask for them. You should be comfortable in your office, so bring in something for your wall or desk, get a good reading light and make sure that your desk, desk chair and computer won't send you into back spasms after a week because they are too low, too high or too far away from each other.
The reality is that as a lateral, you have no choice in your office or furniture and probably will end up with an office that has a bad view and contains a banged-up desk with no lock and a missing drawer. Bide your time until you are in a position to lobby for furniture or a better office.
Another way to get settled is to get off to a good start with your secretary by letting her or him know what your expectations are regarding drafts, filing, messages and follow ups. Chances are you are not the only person your secretary is working for, so be fair to all involved and don't put your secretary in the middle. I follow a personal commandment to "honor my secretary," which has been rewarding, both professionally and personally.
Get your secretary to show you the proper way to charge telephone calls and copies and use voicemail. Find the packrat in your office who saved the original voicemail instructions so you can learn the shortcuts. Also learn how to send facsimiles, post mail and send out overnight packages when your secretary is not around.
7. GET ORIENTED AND TRAINED
Since chances are you will not be sitting in the firm's conference room listening to presentations about firm procedures, make your own orientation.
Try to find out what materials are given to summer and first-year associates and ask for copies, such as maps of the firm, form books, staff phone directories and office manuals.
If no formal computer training is set up for you, find out who the best person at your firm is to explain the firm's systems. Get someone to give you a tour of the firm and make sure you find out where the important things are - the bathrooms, coffee station and vending machines.
If you are at a large firm, learn the names of the people who work in your immediate area and branch out every week, to the other end of the hall or the floor, then another floor, etc. until you recognize most people. If your work takes you to a different floor one day, at the least, check out the names outside of offices. Better yet, introduce yourself to a few more people each week.
As for time sheets, even if you filled them out in a previous life, have someone from the accounting department meet with you and explain the nuances. For instance, do you have to code? Some clients/firms want codes instead of descriptions.
Find someone you can relate to, who seems successful - or at least well-liked - who has been at the firm at least a year but is also a lateral.
Develop a friendship so you can ask candid questions about the different partner personalities, as well as firm management and style. Find out what the "hot" work at the firm is, who really runs the firm and who is destined to be among the firm's future leaders. Get the skinny on how decisions are made and how such decisions are communicated to associates.
Every firm has lifesavers. Find out who your firm's are, seek these people out and be kind to them. Don't wait until you have an emergency research assignment to introduce yourself to the librarian. Also make sure you make friends with the people in charge of supplies and facilities, including whomever it is that will eventually hook you up with a nicer desk, larger filing cabinet or computer stand.
Don't walk in making demands or start off by whining. Rather, ask nicely and be patient.
In addition to the people, know what the firm's other resources are, including the holdings of the library, the contents of the website, whatever marketing materials or strategic plans exist, and to what journals and other periodicals the firm subscribes.
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