Being a lawyer is inherently stressful, and the first few years of practicing law are arguably the most anxiety-inducing periods of your life (aside from 1L finals and the bar exam). As you enter the real world, you’ll learn very quickly that law school did not teach you how to actually practice law. But rest easy! Practicing law doesn’t have to be as terrifying as it seems. Below are some practical tips gathered from seasoned attorneys across the country from their years of experience (tips that they wished they’d learned in law school).
- Learn how to work a case from start to finish. From drafting a petition, to filing it, getting it served, actually trying the case, and closing out the file, you need to know how to work an entire file without any help or support. This usually means sitting with a senior paralegal and observing, asking as many questions as possible.
- Your client’s problems are not your problems. It is easy to become emotionally invested in a case, especially in your first year of practice. To preserve your sanity, you need to divorce yourself from the emotions of the case. Just because your client is going through a tough time does not mean you need to, as well.
- Confirm everything with everyone via email. Did a partner give you a deadline for a project? Confirm it via email. Did opposing counsel confer with you over the phone about a discovery deadline? Confirm it via email. Email is your best friend, and will save you from many future headaches when people try to dispute events.
- Familiarize yourself with the most common objections and exceptions to hearsay. Actually trying a case in a courtroom is an anxiety-riddled adventure. You can make it a lot easier on yourself by memorizing the most common objections and exceptions to hearsay. Objection, non-responsive, and the hearsay exception of admission by the opposing party will become powerful tools in your kit.
- Every court has local rules – learn them. Don’t rely on the paralegals to know every rule of every court. Ultimately, it is your bar card on the line, and you bear the responsibility of blowing an arbitrary deadline imposed by the court.
- Never speak in absolutes. Many times, clients want you to make snap judgments. But in many cases, you will not have all of the information. Your answer to a lot of questions will always be “it depends.”
- Always Google your potential client, the opposing party, and your opposing counsel for every single case. Sometimes, you find gems like discovering your opposing counsel’s bar license has been suspended and they should not be practicing. Do your research.
- Does a document bear your signature? Then you need to be the one reviewing it. Some attorneys grow complacent and allow their paralegal or associate to sign their name on pleadings and motions. Do NOT do this. Your bar card is on the line. You should be reviewing every single word in that document.
- Become comfortable talking about money. It’s inherently awkward to finish a phone call with a client by saying they owe money. But it’s money that they are obligated to pay and you do not work for free.
- Properly capture your time. Do not wait until the end of the day, week, or month to input your hours. You will forget a large chunk of time. Instead, keep a spreadsheet open all day and track it as you go.
- Follow up on unpaid invoices. You should know, at any given time, if any of your clients owe you money. If they have not paid their invoice, you should personally be following up with each non-paying client.
Pressure and drama go hand-in-hand with the practice of law, especially for your first few years. However, by utilizing some of the tips outlined above, you can hopefully alleviate stress and become a better attorney in the process. Just remember—every attorney goes through this period in their legal practice. Have grace with yourself, and remember that you are not alone.
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