Thursday, May 06, 2010

Advice to the New Junior Associate in Big Law

By Ori J. Herstein

Dear 3Ls and LL.M.s,

Below is advice that may help you transition into your new firm jobs. The tone is a little negative but this is only because I wish to help. A firm job can even be rewarding, interesting and fun if you approach it correctly.

GOD GRANT ME THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE

There is a significant degree of luck in how one is assessed at a law firm. Some associates try to calculate every step they take and every word they say in an attempt to control how the firm perceives them. They also tend to read volumes into any trifle. Understanding that many of these calculations, efforts and assessments are both useless and baseless, and accepting that one’s control over one’s standing at the firm is limited, is a source of great relief. Be nice to people and try to do a good job: the rest is mostly out of your control.

GIVE EVERYONE THY EAR, BUT FEW THY VOICE

Everyone at a law firm gossips about everyone else in the firm. If there is something you do not want the firm or others to know, confide in no one. At least not until you have formed some consistent and reliable friendships.

FUNCTIONARIES

A firm has many functionaries: HR, recruiting, secretarial, PR/communications, IT etc. These people serve their masters: the partners. Even if they purport to “be there for the associates,” do not expect them to take your side against the firm or a partner. They will always err on the side of caution and be risk averse. Unusual requests or problems are better brought to a friendly partner.

DO UNTO OTHERS

There are basically three classes in a law firm: staff, associates, and partners. As frustrated as an associate may feel about her low position on the firm’s totem pole, she must always remember that the staff is worse off. Be generous with your year-end gifts, always thank people, be respectful, be nice, do not summon people to your office, do not raise your voice and so on. Act as you would like your superior to act towards you. Also, a secretary may protect or harm an associate and it is therefore a good idea to remain on his or her good side. In addition, the secretaries often know more about what’s going on in the firm than any associate.

THE GODS AND YOU

Partners like to feel that they and their work are of grave importance. Let them. In many ways associates function as a mirror for generating a flattering reflection, a sounding board for ideas and venting, and a sponge to absorb frustrations. It’s just how it is.

Partners who did not spend their entire careers “coming up” at the firm usually tend to have a broader perspective on life and do not view the firm as the be-all and end-all. They also tend to be less hierarchical. Generally one’s well-being depends less on what one works on and more on whom one works for.

THEY WILL NOT ALWAYS CATCH ON THE FIRST TIME AROUND

Save old drafts and research. Very often those reviewing your work will delete certain sections, cases and arguments from your drafts only to later tell you to add those exact same issues, forgetting that you already addressed them. Save your work as a new draft each time you make significant alterations. This will not only save you the annoyance but will also give you time to chat with your office mate or to pop downstairs for a sweet and a tall-decaf-frappachino.

AESTHETICS

You will be spending most of your waking hours in your office. Make the effort and assume the expense of creating a pleasant work environment. Plants, pictures, books and, perhaps most importantly, softer lighting can make all the difference. I cannot stress this point enough. Also, bring your own tea.

MUSIC HAS THE POWER TO SOOTHE THE AILING SOUL

Sadly, document review and due diligence will take up much of your time and can be soul crushing. A set of earphones (with a long cord) and a registration at Pandora.com will prove more helpful than you think.

DO YOUR OWN THING

There will be hours, days and even weeks during which you will have nothing or little to do. This is normal. Always have some ongoing project that is directed at your own betterment ready at hand. Read a book, write an article, keep a journal, master a new language, knit and so on. Use your “down time” to its fullest rather than wasting it on surfing the net or “reading up about the firm’s clients in ‘the Journal’.”

AT A FIRM, THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A FREE LUNCH

Yet they are rarely worth it.

JUST DO IT

Pro Bono.

POPINJAYS AND MUMBOJUMBOS

The partners are rich. You are not. Live below your means for the first couple of years and do not spend the money you expect to make in the future. The future is not always predictable. Save and/or pay off your loans. Also, having enough saved will give you the empowering and liberating knowledge that you can quit whenever you want. Never ever become enslaved or accustomed to your salary.

THE ORACLE

The final word goes to the celestial Justice Holmes:

"We cannot all be Descartes or Kant, but we all want happiness. And happiness, I am sure from having known many successful men, cannot be won simply by being counsel for great corporations and having an income of fifty thousand dollars. An intellect great enough to win the prize needs other food besides success. The remoter and more general aspects of the law are those which give it universal interest. It is through them that you not only become a great master in your calling, but connect your subject with the universe and catch an echo of the infinite, a glimpse of its unfathomable process, a hint of the universal law." The Path of the Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1897).

14 comments:

wannabeyogi said...

Amen!

1 Place said...

My advice to a new associate would be get all the knowledge that you can from the Big Law firm and then get out and start your own firm - control your destiny, be a change maker ... make your life with balance and meaning

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