With the graduation gown donned and the solicitor’s roll signed, every new lawyer finds themselves facing the same question: what next? How do you ensure your years of study, months of work experience and lifetime of anticipation culminate in a fulfilling career?
Insights posed this question to veteran lawyers. Here’s what they had to say.
Find mentors fast
Building a strong network of lawyers, including peers and senior lawyers, will be immensely helpful throughout your career.
“All your university friends, school friends, study buddies, and work experience colleagues can become part of your professional network over time,” said Frances Forrester to Insights. “You never know what opportunities they may be able to present you with in the future. Build these networks by giving rather than taking.”
Carol Grimshaw of Grimshaw Legal and Aide Lawyers advised new lawyers to not restrict themselves to solicitors; consider mentors from the Bar, which is rich with knowledge and experience. Moreover, barristers often have quite a different perspective on the practise of law to solicitors, as they act both as small business owners and advocacy experts.
Follow the work
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t immediately land the job you thought you would. Taking an unlikely route is often far more interesting and may present more opportunities for experience and advancement than you may think.
Brid Ni’Ifearnain has worked as lawyer in Ireland and Australia, and while in Australia has worked in a number of legal-tech roles.
“Be prepared to follow the work,” said Brid to Insights. “So many law graduates just want a job from ‘Suits’, but real law isn’t like that. Go where there is opportunity. You don’t have to start in a top-tier firm in the CBD. Always keep learning. It may seem idealistic, but no money spent on education is money wasted.”
Do good work – and stay true to who you are
Keeping clients happy is as much about good communication as it is about good work.
“Always get your client’s instructions and their acknowledgement of your advice in writing,” Donald Gordon said to Insights. With so many variables and risk factors at play in any legal matter, it is easy for miscommunications and oversights to occur – which can pose an issue around billing time.
“Get money in Trust before you start work,” suggested Sam Mason to Insights. This can help with workflow and keep clients mindful of your time – and theirs.
The life of a lawyer is a busy one, and several lawyers acknowledged how stressful it can be.
“Don’t automatically fall into the deep rut that has been carved by others before you,” advised Chris Hargreaves to Insights. “Make decisions about your career, rather than just letting it pan out on auto-pilot.”
Strike the right balance for you
Going with the flow in any career is rarely a good idea. The legal profession is filled with long hours and strong personalities. If you’re not mindful, it is easy to fall out of balance and feel irked by the work.
“Develop your own boundaries, rather than adopting those around you,” said Bonnie Esposito to Insights. The extent to which this can be done, however, may depend on the culture of your workplace.
As Catherine Brooks told Insights, it’s important to find the right culture. “For example, choose a firm with gender diversity or flexible work, rather than the right firm for your CV.”
Remember, everyone was a new lawyer once.
“Partners were not born with the skills and knowledge of a partner,” Amanda Jane said to Insights. “If you don’t know the answer, work hard to find out what you think the answer is before you go to your boss for help. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you deal with your mistakes that makes or breaks you.”
It is a theme that rings true for many lawyers.
“Love your job and go hard, but remember that no one case is worth your integrity, family, health, peace of mind, or practising certificate,” said another experienced lawyer to Insights. “You’re not helping your client by just doing what they want – you’re an adviser as well as an advocate.”
Interested in attending the 2018 New Lawyers Summit? Hear from illustrious speakers including the President of the NSW Bar Association, the Chief Operating Officer of Salvos Legal, and the Chief Judge of the NSW District Court, as well as a range of senior lawyers and career coaches. Plus, new lawyers receive a 50% discount!