By Gloria Steinberg • January 02, 2015•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
Congratulations. You’ve graduated from law school, passed the bar, and now you got yourself a job. Whether you were hired as an intern, extern, part-timer, or a full-timer, being the new person can be hard. How do you fit in? How do you build a good reputation? All these questions are running through your mind on your first day at your new job and you feel like you’re back in grade school, looking for a seat in the cafeteria during lunch. Well, good news is, whoever hired you already thinks that you’d be a good fit. So now, all you have to do is act like it.
First things first. Maybe you’ll be lucky and someone will be assigned as your buddy to take you around the office and introduce you to everyone. But if that doesn’t happen, take the initiative to introduce yourself. Make a good first impression. Walk by each office, smile, shake hands, and make small talk. Think of something you’re comfortable sharing, but not too personal. Maybe you can try to make connections between you and the other person… Did you go to the same school? Are you from the same town? Yes, it might be awkward at first. But this is a must.
Last year, there was a new guy at my office who didn’t properly introduce himself on his first day. It seemed like one day, he just appeared. Everyone thought he was stuck up, and it took a while for the rest of the office to feel like he was a part of our team. Please don’t isolate yourself.
Get to know e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e
I started my last job close to Christmas, so I had a Christmas party to attend during my first week of work. Regardless of when you start your job though, try not to miss out on company events and/or social functions during the first couple of months. One of the most effective ways to bond with other people is to share experiences. Also, attending company events and/or social functions is your prime opportunity to meet other employees outside of the office before you’re comfortable asking them out for a drink or a dinner on your own.
Take this time to get to know everyone in your office. Not just other attorneys at your firm, but the support staff too. You don’t have to be friends with everyone at the firm, but you are going to be spending a lot of time with them. Figured out what makes them tick, and what they like? Put that in your back pocket. Knowing how other people work around the office will come in handy later.
You’re new, so now is the time to ask questions and not be shy about it. If you work at a large firm, you may spend your first week training. If not, identify people who you feel comfortable approaching with questions. You need to know and understand how the firm operates, so have a basic list of questions like this:
Is there a standard operating procedure for docketing cases? How do you receive assignments? How do you file documents online, or does your support staff file documents for you? How do you find templates and samples of work done by your colleagues for other cases similar to yours? How do you order office supplies? What’s the log in information for electronic databases? When do people come in for work in the morning and leave the office in the evening?
When you receive help, genuinely thank the other person for taking his or her time to help you out. Maybe even follow up with him or her later and say something like, “Hey, that log-in information worked just fine and I was able to get everything I needed. Thanks again.”
In a few weeks, you’re not going to be so new anymore. Trust me when I say that it’ll be more awkward when you finally muster the courage to ask basic questions and other people look at you funny three weeks from now.
Share your experiences
You’re new at the firm, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have zero experience, even if you’re a junior associate. Maybe you picked up a handy skill or two during your internship as a law student. Or maybe you have experiences from another occupation you’ve had in the past. Take me, for example. I used to be a chemist, so I was able to work on a chemical patent application and assist my former boss, who was previously an engineer.
Sharing your experiences with other people at your firm makes you look less clueless in a new work environment. It also makes you seem more knowledgeable and allows others to see you as an asset to the firm, which helps you build a good reputation.
While you want to show that you’re not a blank canvas, remember that there is a fine line between sharing what you know and pretending that you know something. If you’re not prepared to have a brief conversation about something, it’s best not to pretend or volunteer that you know it. If you do, and you’re mum when people ask you follow up questions, things will go downhill.
Remember that your first week is about introducing you to the firm, and introducing the firm to you. So focus on that. Settle into your new office, and get things you need in order. Hopefully by the end of the first week, you’ll start to feel more integrated at the firm. But maintaining a good reputation and trust among your co-workers is an ongoing process that requires effort not just during your first week, but every week.