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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I am just starting as a summer associate. Are there things I can do to stand out in a positive way? A: Sure. You know the basics: Be nice to everyone. Do error-free work. And stay out of Above the Law. But to stand out in a good way, you need to do things that others may forget. Here are some things to consider: Take Initiative. You will go to social events and complete projects. But if you really want to shine, seek out people to meet and projects that interest you. Firms want to know that you really…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I’m a freshman in High School, and I want to prepare to become an attorney. I have already done a bit of research, but there are still a few questions that I have (below). A: As I mentioned in part one of my response last month, I am impressed that you are preparing early! Here are the answers to your remaining questions: 1.  What are a couple of things I can do to improve my writing skills? First, you are prescient to ask about writing skills. For most lawyers, writing is an essential skill for success. Many law firms…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I’m a freshman in High School, and I want to prepare to become an attorney. I have already done a bit of research, but there are still a few questions that I have (below). A: Excellent! You are preparing early! Being a lawyer can be fascinating and rewarding. But it’s not as glamorous as media portrayals. As you progress in your education, learn about legal careers, but keep an open mind about other fields. There is a lot to explore in the world! Here are your questions and my answers:  1.  What job should I get in college if…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: Are there lessons for new lawyers from the recent Academy Awards “Envelopegate” snafu involving PwC? A: Oh yes. The more obvious lessons are that even with straightforward assignments, the consequences of mistakes can be huge and “do-overs” may not be possible. I discuss these and other lessons below. “Envelopegate” is the moniker many media outlets have given to the Best Picture snafu at the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, February 26, 2017. To set the stage (for the approximately zero percent of readers who have not had any Internet or other news access in the past week), a…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I am involved in a negotiation with an abusive opposing counsel. He tries to embarrass me in front of my client and says I don’t know what I am talking about. I am concerned about raising this with my supervising attorney, because he may think I am over my head. Any suggestions? A: Ah. Civility. Depending on your personality, the rough and tumble of law practice can be one of its less appealing aspects. But sometimes the job involves taking a bullet for your client. Usually, the best course of action involves keeping a laser focus on your client’s…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I have decided I should switch practice groups, because the one I am in is not giving me much mentoring. But I have not had much success getting work from the new group. Any advice on what to do? A: Yes. Finding a good “fit” at a firm is critical to your long-term success. But both you and the new practice group have to decide (either formally or informally) that you should work together. And until you have officially joined the second group, the dance can be delicate. At first, you will need work for both groups. And over…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: Everyone says that new lawyers should ask questions without worrying about being judged. But I know of lawyers who have gotten negative reactions to questions. What’s your advice about when to ask questions and when to keep quiet? A: New lawyers need to ask questions to learn. But as you recognize, there are exceptions to every rule. There are, in fact, questions to avoid. As with everything in law, you need to be strategic. Some lawyers recommend asking only "sensible" questions. But that doesn't provide much guidance. You should consider what to ask and who to ask – as well as how and when to ask. Here are some tips: 1.    What to ask. One reason lawyers want you to ask questions is to help prevent one of their most common fears. The…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I feel as if another (more senior) associate is trying to sabotage me. The associate tries to get me to do all his non-billable work. And if something goes wrong, he tells people it’s my fault. It’s stressful to work together, and I am concerned that it is going to harm my career. Any suggestions? A: Yes, and I can empathize. Even if your colleagues are supportive, practicing law can be challenging and stressful. Working with people who may not have your back makes things that much harder. In the most recent Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks/Above the Law survey,…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: How should I refer to people that I interact with professionally? Are first names okay? A: Here is my quick and dirty rule: If you are in a position of giving advice or providing value to another person, use their first name. In other situations, start with a more formal salutation. Recently, University of Utah law professor Shima Baradaran Baughman called for students to stop calling professors by their first name. Her post for PrawfsBlawg expressed frustration with “nonconsensual first-name calling” and caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal. Professor Baughman’s post argued that casual interactions between professors…

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Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: Practical Advice for New Lawyers

Q: I am entering my last year of law school. Do you have suggestions for things I could do over the next year to be better prepared to practice when I graduate? A: I do. Most students should work to expand their professional networks and refine their writing skills. Practice management and professionalism skills are also important to help you gain credibility and provide more value. With regular effort in these areas over the next year, you will have a head start when you begin practice. That should make your transition more seamless and open up more opportunities to advance.…

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