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How to thrive in your new law firm job

new law firm job

So, you got a new job at a new law firm, eh?

Congratulations!

You probably have a couple of weeks before you start this new adventure. As someone who has worked as a hiring manager for law firms and in other industries, I have a few tips for how you might spend this time.

To be honest, there are several things you can and should do before you start your job. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been hired as an attorney, a paralegal, a law clerk, or an intern, these tips will help you shine from the moment you arrive.

Research, research, and more research

Believe me when I tell you this: anyone who has ever started or grown a law firm has worked incredibly hard to get where they are. They’re proud of what they’ve built, and they’ll likely want to tell you a lot about it as part of the hiring process.

Listen carefully to what they say.

More importantly, however, much of your success at the firm will depend on your ability to match their excitement.

One good way to get there is to do expert-level research into your new firm and the things that make it unique. Here are the things we suggest you look into:

The firm itself

The first thing you’ll want to do is visit the firm website.

You probably did this before your interviews, but do it again now. This time, look at the content on the site from a marketer’s perspective.

  • What is the firm trying to convey to the world and to potential clients?
  • What are its points of pride?
  • What does it consider to be its biggest victories?

Anything that is important enough to put on the website is important for you know because you’re now an employee, and therefore a critical brand ambassador.

Additionally, look for any news stories about the firm from industry sources — good, bad, or indifferent.

These aren’t necessarily things you’ll comment on to your new bosses, but it’s good to be aware of how your firm is treated in the press.

Moreover, if those articles raise concerns for you, it will give you the chance to ask questions to the right person at the right time. Hint: this probably isn’t fodder for first-week conversations.

Your practice area

Whether you’ve joined a specialized firm or a large firm with several distinct practice groups, you probably have a good idea of which practice area you’ve been hired into.

Regardless of your position, you’ll do yourself a huge favor to get up to speed on the ins and outs of that practice area.

  • What important cases have been decided recently?
  • Are there any agency decisions that are important to your new work?
  • Which statutory scheme(s) are important to your practice area?
  • Did you check local, state, and federal sources?

If you’re a litigator, research the courts you’ll be working in.

  • Who are the judges?
  • Where do you find the local rules?
  • Where is the court located?

Knowing the answers to all of these questions will allow you to hit the ground running fast.

The individual attorneys

You may or may not know which attorneys you’ll be working with when you start your new job.

If you do, obviously, research them. If not, research the managing partner and other senior partners within your department.

Start with their website bio, and then move to external biographies. These will give you important background information: where they went to law school, when they began practicing, what their specialties are.

If there are links to news articles, read them. If there are reviews, read them. If there are links to charitable organizations they support, check them out.

You don’t have to go stalker-level in this research, but you should know enough to make these folks feel like you value their achievements.

The cases

Finally, see if you can find any published cases where your new firm represented one of the parties.

If you’re able to access court dockets and records, you might even read a few of the briefs your firm has filed. They will give you great insight into how your firm presents itself to the legal world.

It will also give you important intel on the types of clients and cases that you’ll face in this new position.

Be your own operations manager

Aside from the highly intellectual side of all this, there are some really practical things you can do to make your transition into the new firm easier.

Clothes

The truth is, we’re all coming out of COVID-19 and for many of us, the work clothes we wore before the pandemic fit…um…differently now.

If you haven’t had to dress up for a full week since before March 2020, now is the time to make sure you have enough to wear to keep from embarrassing yourself. A little bit of shopping may be in order.

Food

This seems so simple, but it’s often just an awkward part of a new job. Where are you going to eat?

If you’re a bring-your-own-lunch kind of person, then do a little planning for your first week.

If, on the other hand, you like to leave the office to refuel, walk the neighborhood. Have a plan ahead of time for places where you can hide away while working on briefs or avoid detection by others when you’ve simply had too much people-time.

Specialty diets can be tough if you’re working from the office. Make sure you have everything you need and a backup plan for busy days before you start.

Plan your route

I don’t care who you are, where you live, or what your transportation method is, if you show up to work late on your first day because you “didn’t know it would take that long,” you’re not doing yourself any favors.

In the week before you start your new job, do several practice runs of the commute. Go at the actual time of day if you can — traffic will be different in the morning versus the early afternoon.

If you work from home, plan your morning routine before it’s time to log in. Make sure you’re fresh, fueled, and ready to hop on video calls first thing.

Showing up

So, your first day at your new law firm is upon you.

Don’t worry. Just be you.

Shake hands (if people are doing that), look people in the eye, remember people’s names, and ask good questions. You already know how to do all of these things.

Above all, remain humble and open to learning.

Remember, this isn’t rocket science…unless you’re an intellectual property attorney literally specializing in rocket science.

You’ve studied hard. You’ve prepared.

You’ve got this.

Author

  • Jennifer Anderson

    Jennifer Anderson practiced business litigation in California from 1999 to 2016. When she’s not writing from her floating cabin on the Columbia River, she can be found hiking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest.