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Dear New Lawyers

October 26, 2016

You just spent years in law school, but once you’ve graduated, there’s still so much more to learn. Seasoned lawyers offered some advice in the Career & Professional Development column of our November Washington Lawyer. Want to read more? Check out the expanded, digital edition below!

Marna TuckerMarna Tucker
Senior Founding Partner, Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP

Wherever a new attorney starts working, the going is tough because your training is really on the job, and the boss rarely gives clear guidance on what is expected. First thing to know is that you are not the only new lawyer who feels that way. Secondly, the rough going goes on for a long time.

As you begin the rough road, don’t be afraid to ask questions. There really aren’t any dumb questions when you are starting—only dumb mistakes. It is easier for your boss to answer your questions than to clean up your mess.

If you are given a file to work on, read the file carefully. Every time you have to work on the matter or talk to your boss, re-read the whole file. You’ll be surprised at how prepared you become from that simple exercise.

Treat all your assignments, even the unappealing ones, with respect and vigor. Your job is to earn work. Your job is to let your boss go home early because you are trusted with the work.

Find something that you can do that sets you apart from the other lawyers and cultivate it. If your colleagues are afraid to go to court, then go to court. If you are in love with the tax code, then make sure everyone knows of your affair with all the regulations.

Most importantly, find yourself a mentor. You need someone to ask about the office culture, the office expectations, and your own progress. There may be a mentorship program in place, but if there is not, take the lead and ask someone to lunch whom you respect and try to develop a relationship.  

It’s not easy, but you’ll be surprised at how successful you can be when you step outside your comfort zone.

Linda CarlisleLinda E. Carlisle
Member, Miller & Chevalier Chartered

1. Do not be afraid to ask questions. No one knows all of the answers. 

2. Finish an assignment on time, but keep ownership of the subject matter. Try to stay aware of any new developments both in your office and externally. 

3. Get to know lawyers in other law firms doing what you do—yes, the D.C. Bar is a great way to do this. 

4. Try to find a subject that you can learn well, learn it well, and then write an article about it. Become the person that others look to when the subject comes up. 

5. Clients are people and can be friends. Get to know your them, keep track of birthdays and children. Make your clients want to deal with you because you are smart and care about them.

6. First impressions do count. Try to speak clearly without using "like" or "ah." Always dress appropriately for the occasion. It is much better to be overdressed than underdressed. 

7. Enjoy what you do. Being a lawyer can be very demanding, but also great fun—try to focus on the "fun" part.