Post-college life

8 Critical Pieces of Advice I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Lawyer

Congrats! You've finished law school, taken the bar, and now you're preparing for the next challenge: your first year as a lawyer. Making the transition from school to the workforce may seem daunting, but with a few words of advice, we’re sure you’ll do just fine.


CommonBond reached out to some of our law customers (many of whom have saved thousands of dollars on their student loans) for that advice. Here are their best pearls of wisdom:

1. Listening closely will make your life easier.


When you're just starting out, you’re going to feel inundated with assignments from partners, mid-level associates, and clients. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, but knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it any easier.


Putting in the effort to really listen will help you keep track of all of your tasks and will allow you to catch the important details needed to get the job done right. Plus, your bosses and clients will notice that you’ve been paying careful attention when you ask well-informed questions. 

2. Focus on yourself—don’t worry about others.


Many of the lawyers with whom we spoke noted that they were competitive when they started their careers. The truth is, it's tempting to worry about how you measure up to your law school peers, comparing your firm, salary, practice group, and billable hours.


That said, you only need to compare your performance to your past performance and make sure that you’re improving. After all, there’ll always be someone “ahead” of you—even at your firm, partners and associates with years of experience will have an easier time getting desired results because of their experience.


The truth is, your firm knows where you stand and they hired you for your potential as much as your skill. Focus on what you're working with and keep your eyes on the prize.  

3. Try out different practice groups, because you won’t always have the opportunity.


Maybe from day one of law school you knew you wanted to work in M&A. Maybe you had no idea, and now you're negotiating real estate contracts.


Now is the time to take a variety of assignments and learn what you like and don't like. After all, once you get deep into a career track, it’s going be nearly impossible to switch paths. Early on, though, you can test the waters in a few different fields to find your passion.


4. Be honest about your time commitments to your friends, your family, and yourself.


When you're getting started, your availability will be unpredictable. The sooner you let your friends and family know that, the less disappointed they'll be when you have to push back that dinner you had planned.


By properly managing their expectations, you’ll avoid the risk of making them think you don’t care about seeing them—but if you make plans and back out, it’s more likely they’ll be hurt.


On that note, it might not be the best idea to sign up for that Tuesday/Thursday 7:00 p.m. spin class—unless you're willing to eat the cost of cancellation fees.


5. Relish the slow periods.


The truth is, you'll be working some long hours as a first-year, but those grueling periods will ebb and flow.


When you’re busy, you’ll be stuck in the office—so it’s only natural that when things get a bit quieter, you might have a tough time pulling yourself away. Being behind the desk will start to become a habit.


Be mindful when the emails slow down, and use that time to catch up with family or friends—or simply as an opportunity to get out of the office a little early.  


6. Plan for your financial future.


Everyone's financial situation will be different, but there are a couple of things you can do to make things easier for yourself down the line. For instance, think about how much you can contribute to your 401K—currently the max is $18,500 per year.


If you're one of the many first-years considering how to reduce your student loan debt, refinancing your loans is a great option.


7. Don’t forget to take care of your health.


It’ll be easy to let those less-healthy habits (ordering that late night chicken parm or skipping leg day) creep into your daily schedule. It’ll be tough, but sticking to a routine that supports your well-being will help keep your spirits up and give you the energy to get through those red lines.


Remember, lawyers are at specific risk for certain health problems, ranging from mental illness to heart disease, so make sure to go to the doctor regularly and relax when you need it. Work hard, but also know when to take a break.


8. You'll make mistakes—and that's fine.


Starting anything new—especially a new job—comes with its fair share of trial and error. Fresh out of law school, you're not expected to be a fountain of knowledge and you'll be doing a lot of learning on the job.


Mistakes are unavoidable; all that’s up to you is how you respond. Make sure you don’t beat yourself up or put yourself down, and instead use each mistake as the learning opportunity is it.


If you’re looking for more ways to prepare for your first year as a lawyer in the working world, check out the American Bar Association’s 30 tips in 30 minutes. Good luck, and remember to enjoy the process!

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