Fresh off the high of being hired as a new associate and basking in your new, glossy headshot and biography, you walk in to your spacious office, sigh deeply and take what you suspect may be your last carefree breath for the forseeable future.
On-boarding is tough — I know because I am in the midst of it as I write this — but it does not have to be as intimidating and stressful if you embrace the following:
You are going to make mistakes. Between billing, legal research, learning how to use the software and diving into a new practice, new associates are inundated with copious amounts of new information. It is important to aim to create a good work product, but do not allow yourself to be overwhelmed with perfection. Yes, attention to detail is critical in the legal profession, but perfectionism comes at a cost to your productivity and your sanity. Embrace that, since you are new, there is a grace period to learn how to operate in your practice area and no one expects you to be perfect. Use mistakes as a learning opportunity and be easy on yourself when (not if) you make them.
Be courteous to the paralegals, legal assistants, and other support staff. First, because it is basic human decency and, second, because they probably know more than you (at least in your first couple of months). Paralegals and legal assistants play an integral part in the operation of law firms: they file legal documents; organize and procure files; and assist attorneys in the administration of virtually all of our tasks. It is essential that your relationship with support staff be as symbiotic as possible to maximize your time and ensure the best quality work product for your client. Lastly, and this should go without saying, the office becomes a more pleasant environment when everyone feels appreciated. In other words, your “thank you” goes a long way!
COMMUNICATE OPENLY AND HONESTLY! Honesty is not only an essential cornerstone of the legal profession and your statutory duty as an officer of the court but it is necessary for producing a good work product, building trust between coworkers and clients and developing a reputation for dependability. If you are running late because you overslept, do not hyperbolize and say you are sick. If you do not fully comprehend the task you have been given, ask a partner or senior associate for clarification. Honest communication and candidness will likely never hurt you as an associate but, of course, use discretion.
Do not be scared of the partner. Yes, there probably are some generational and possibly even demographic differences that may cause you to develop preconceptions or heighten your nervousness during conversations with your supervising partner but try your best to abandon those notions. Partners are here to help. They are connected, have decades of practice, and are truly invested in training you to be the best attorney you can be. (That is why they hired you!) So take a deep breath and use the partners as a resource and make it a priority to develop positive relationships with them.
New associates, forge ahead confidently! The first year does not have to be as harrowing you may think.
Maureen Edobor is an associate with Goldberg Segalla, LLP in Baltimore.