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I recently checked in with some lawyer colleagues and friends, asking for their current tips for today’s junior associates in law firms. Here’s some of the advice I heard over and over again:

  1. Pick up the phone. Can’t get someone to reply over email? Pick up the phone and talk to them or leave a message. It’s often the quickest way to get things done.
  2. Take ownership over your projects. If you need comments from a supervisor on a draft that’s due to the client on Friday, follow up. Your job is not done until the document is in the client’s hands, even if you met your initial deadline to complete a draft.
  3. Communicate proactively. Update your supervisors. Ask for help when you need it. Communicate ahead of time if you foresee a problem hitting a deadline.
  4. Triple check your work, especially documents going to external parties: client names, citations, case law, court rules, etc.
  5. Get it in writing. Take notes when getting assignments. Confirm agreements with opposing counsel in writing. Don’t rely on your memory and always CYA.
  6. Focus on building your reputation early. Being seen as someone who tries hard and responds quickly (especially when working remotely) can take you very far as a junior associate, even if you feel absolutely clueless on the substance.
  7. Seek out the work you want. Don’t wait to get assigned the cool matter; ask to join it.
  8. Set boundaries and ask for help prioritizing when you feel overloaded with work. Your supervisors don’t always know everything on your plate; seek out their assistance.

If this advice seems somewhat familiar to you, it should! Year after year, senior lawyers have the same advice for junior associates about how to transition to a law firm because adjusting to professional life can be really hard and is not a focus of your studies in law school, and we see the same stumbling blocks year in and year out.

If you feel like you’re in the “sink” phase of the “sink or swim” environment of your law firm, please take some time to review this site. It’s full of advice for junior associates who are trying to build a career, impress their supervisors, and retain a healthy and happy personal life.

You can also check out my book Law Firm Life, written for junior associates, or my course Survive & Thrive, for more help transitioning to working life.

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