I remember my first day of practice. I got up early and made myself a hearty breakfast. My suit had already been pressed from the night before. I walked to work with a big smile on my face, relishing the fact that I had finally made it: I was a lawyer!
I arrived at the Scotia Bank tower in Toronto, looked up, took a deep breath and rode the elevator to the 44thfloor. My expectations of what I’d be doing on that first day drastically changed when I met my mentor.
Instead of going for lunch and hearing stories of what it had been like to be a lawyer for all those years, I was shown 3 cabinets of files that were now my responsibility and needed my immediate attention.
The courting of my student days was over. It was time to deliver.
It’s your time to deliver. Like me, you’re going to learn a lot in your first year of practice, but you’re also going to make a lot of mistakes – some will be necessary, and others avoidable.
Here are 5 mistakes you should avoid making and why.
- Don’t take feedback personally
One of my earliest memories of re-framing feedback in a positive way as a professional came from working with a judge. As a law clerk, I worked closely with judges on formulating and writing their decisions. One of these decisions was overturned by the Court of Appeal and, from my perspective, criticized my judge’s reasons for arriving at a conclusion.
Shocked at the outcome, I ran to the judge’s office and showed him the Ontario Report. He read it and chuckled at my reaction, reassuring me that the Court of Appeal had not made a personal attack on him. My judge explained that the appellate court was within its rights to outline the incorrectness of his approach and put his faith in the judicial system to balance the scales of justice when necessary. He also explained, in a calm voice, that in private practice, there were going to be some cases that I’d get right, and others that I’d get wrong.
I can’t say that I perfected this quality in my first year of practice, but by recognizing that I had a choice to make when receiving feedback, I opened up many more opportunities to learn and grow as a professional (and person).
Here’s more information on how to deal with negative feedback: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/e-taking-frustration-out-associate-evaluations-lawyer-coach/
- Don’t wait for someone to tell you how you’re performing – ask!
I went through an annual review process where I would receive feedback from all the lawyers I worked with. Upon reflection, I should have been soliciting my own performance reviews and asking questions about what I could be doing better throughout the course of the year. I would, therefore, encourage you to consider scheduling regular mini-reviews (monthly or weekly) with your mentor or the partners you work with. Don’t assume that because you haven’t received any constructive criticism, all is well.
I learned this the hard way. It stings when you learn in an annual review that someone you work closely with has been withholding information until then about your performance. It’s true that some people have a hard time providing negative feedback and should learn how to do it, but by mistaking silence for praise, you’re not going to progress. Requesting information on how you’re doing, on the other hand, allows you to establish yourself as a conscientious professional and will likely lessen the blow of any negative feedback.
Here’s more information about the annual review:
- Don’t overlook your accomplishments – keep a record
I remember preparing my first annual review report. It was a document that would justify my existence at the firm. There was no form, just a blank page that you were supposed to populate with information about your business case.
Had I kept a record of my accomplishments and contributions from day one (including emails thanking me for my work, newspaper clippings about cases I had worked on, and all positive feedback), drafting the report would’ve been that much easier. When it’s time for your annual review – whether you’re seeking a raise or bonus – you’ll wish you had done it too. Start now with my guide:
- Don’t neglect your social life, hobbies or exercise regime
Yes, I worked long hours but one thing I made sure of was to maintain a regular social calendar and gym routine. This routine and calendar had to be adjusted or interrupted on occasion; nevertheless, I made these a priority, which proved invaluable when I was stressed out and needed a release or a listening ear.
I had a good role model in this regard. This person (a partner) would work out during his lunch hour (except, of course, when he was in court). I rarely saw him frazzled. He had a strict schedule, which included leaving work every day in time to have dinner with his wife and two children. The other piece I appreciated that he did before leaving for home was to swing by my office and ask me if I needed any help. I truly believe that his balanced approach toward work and life allowed him to be a great teacher to so many associates at the firm but also a fantastic trial lawyer.
Just because you start practicing law, your former way of living isn’t over. All the things that existed outside of work before you began law should continue. These are the things that will maintain your happiness, health and emotional well-being.
Check out this article I wrote on work/life balance:
- Don’t just do the work – know your source of work.
In my early years, I thought that I would excel by focusing on producing quality work. This is important, but it shouldn’t be your only focus.
As an associate, you don’t have a “boss” but you are serving the clients of another person (a partner). You need to get to know this person. The better you understand how the partner thinks and acts, the better you will perform your job to their expectations. The more you help the partner achieve their goals, the more highly you will be valued.
I know you’ll benefit from these top picks. If you have others, please add them to the comment box! And, if you would like to benefit from working with me during the evaluation season, let’s step up a 30 minute complimentary call: firstname.lastname@example.org