Congratulations, You’re a Lawyer! Now What?

June 4, 2018


Legal Interest


Julia Connelly

You’ve just been admitted. What a proud day. The full bench of the Supreme Court have nodded their heads sagely and allowed you to enter this illustrious profession.

Strap yourself in, because the first year working as a lawyer is a steep learning curve, so stay calm, and keep these top six tricks and tips close by to help you survive.

1. Keep a suit at work

I learnt this one the hard way. Casual Fridays are great: jeans on, everyone's got a spring in their step. I walked into the office on one such day, only to have a partner request that I urgently attend a court hearing to instruct counsel.

The only court-appropriate attire that was available for me to borrow from a colleague was about four sizes too big for me. A few safety pins and a lot of dignity later, I fronted court looking awfully much like an orphan who may at any moment dare to ask for 'more' (one who was walking gingerly in a labour to keep the borrowed skirt up!)

 2. Set your own boundaries 

Legal practice is like a gas: the more you do, the more space (and time) it takes up.  You're focused on building yourself up to get more work. More billables! More!

No one is ever going to tell you you're working too hard, or suggest you take a break, so it’s important to set those boundaries yourself. I'm not saying you should decline work or tell partners where to get off, I'm saying be nice, work hard, but be assertive. You’re not useful to anyone if you don't have your physical and mental health in check. Ultimately, your seniors will also likely respect you more if they see that you’re your own well rounded person who respects his or her self. 

 3. Don't undersell yourself

Read: if an advice takes you four hours, don't put down two. You’re a smart cookie. That's why you graduated law school. That’s why you've landed the job. 

Your charge-out rate takes into account your inexperience — that's why it's low(er). Let your boss reduce hours charged, but don't make that call yourself. That’s not your job.

 4. Safety 

Working late? Ask if the firm has a policy, and if they do? Use it. A cab home for the sake of your safety is worth the cost for both you and your employer.  

5. Take instructions like a boss (OK, not really like a boss)

Keep these two key questions in mind: ‘When would you like this done by?’ and ‘How long would you like me to spend on it?’ And if you’re coming up to the time limit, update them so that no one’s time and money is wasted.

Also, learn to say this: ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’. Quite often, the person giving you the work is thinking so far ahead that they have forgotten to communicate some of the basics. Learn to fess up when you just don’t get it. It’s refreshing when someone is honest and doesn’t pretend to know it all, because if you did, you wouldn’t be one year PAE!  

 6. Look after yourself

Remember that while work is important and takes up a lot of your life, it’s not your whole life. Think of the oxygen-mask analogy: when the plane’s going down, get your own oxygen first before you’re useful to anyone else. And most importantly, remember to breathe!

Julia Connelly

Julia is an experienced Brisbane based lawyer and legal counsel. Julia has worked for a number of highly regarded law firms and the Queensland Law Society and has writen legal based articles for Smith's Lawyers.