From the schoolhouse to your legal wheelhouse

It wasn’t that long ago when I was among the hoards of students right now counting down the days until to winter break. Fortunately, my J.D. led to a good job, and I’m finally doing what I want to for a career.

Whether the transition is from high school to a job, or college to a career, or law school to a profession, managing the transition from school to the “real world” can be startling and difficult.

So, for all those young attorneys taking the step into the “real world,” here are some key differences between school and the workplace:

Friends and colleagues. One of the hardest changes for folks coming out of school is that they don’t have a ready pool of peers to draw from for friendship and companionship. It can be difficult and depressing. No more bonding in the library until midnight or commiserating over an especially dull professor. While social networking sites like Meetup can make it a little easier, the results are not always as lasting. Plugging into some other local institutions is helpful, such as a church or a volunteer organization.

Of course, local and state Bar associations are important for attorneys to take advantage of because of the opportunities they offer especially for young attorneys. Going to any lecture, task force or presentation that relates to your practice area is a great way to meet other young attorneys. Other attorneys with similar practices can be an important resource for support and professional feedback.

Pace. School, especially law school, is stressful in part because of time constraints. There are a limited number of weeks to cram as much information into your head as possible. So you are always trying to stay up to speed or catch-up with your peers. In a workplace, there’s not any less work to be done but there’s a little more time, and stressful situations can generally be headed off by getting in front of it. Additionally, if your project doesn’t have a deadline from a court or agency, it is going to take a backseat to the project that does.

Use the slower times in an office wisely. Get organized. Read up on research in the field. Tie up those loose ends in a case. Set aside time in the future for a webinar.

Professional development. In law school, professors are there to tell you what the trends in law are and give you a cutting edge education. You’re not going to get this at work unless you seek it out. Again, this is why connecting and working with your attorney peers is so important. Lectures, task forces and committee meetings, listservs and law review articles are all great resources to keep up to speed on trends in your practice area.

If you just started practicing or have been out of school for a while, how did you adjust to your new responsibilities?