New Lawyers Practice of Law

Ten Things Every New Lawyer Should Know (Part 1)

ThinkstockPhotos-78291349The following is a guest blog post by Anabella Q. Bonfa, a litigator with Wellman & Warren LLP, and Diane Rifkin, attorney recruiter and CEO at Rifkin Consulting.

When law firm partners meet to discuss business, the subject often turns to common mistakes made by new attorneys. Here are ten typical mistakes to avoid when you’re trying to get your legal career off to a great start.

  1. Learn to proofread. Read and reread everything you draft. And always spellcheck. Even though you draft it electronically, print your legal work and review it thoroughly before signing it. Doing this helps you catch formatting errors, written mistakes, and less than stellar analysis. Keep it formal; too many young lawyers inappropriately use a casual, unprofessional tone (i.e., “the defendant acted like a Mafia Don”) and colloquialisms or slang. By submitting a technically perfect document, you can set yourself apart from others and enhance the possibilities for future successes.
  2. Get all agreements in writing. Handshake deals aren’t the way we practice law. No matter how friendly your relationship is with opposing counsel, all agreements should be confirmed in writing. For example, if opposing counsel tells you on the phone that he or she will drop a cause of action from the complaint, get it in writing so you aren’t left without recourse if he or she reneges. And if much of your confirmation writings are in email, make sure to have a system for storing these agreements or print them out for future use.
  3. Don’t expect court clerks and Google to tell you how to practice law. Court law clerks hate calls from lawyers who try to use them as a reference instead of doing their own independent research. And you don’t want to irritate the clerk. Also, be aware that a search on Google or another online search engine doesn’t replace actual legal research, and any samples you obtain through such a search should be thoroughly researched to make sure the law cited is correct, recent, and relevant. Also, when researching, always read the entire case. Don’t depend on a summary and canned holding that may not be on point with your own case.
  4. Understand what it means to provide client value. Your work, every minute of it, is ultimately billed to a client, and you should think about how the bill will look from the client’s perspective. Keep up with your timesheets on client matters on a daily basis. Your firm and the clients will benefit from your accuracy and value your efficiency. Provide detailed billing so that you can always justify your time and don’t do secretarial work that can be billed by someone else at a lower rate.
  5. Use your tech skills. Younger attorneys are usually proficient at using computer programs, social media, and other technologies. Offer to assist your firm with existing skills to add value to the organization while demonstrating your own value. It will take a while to develop legal skills, so why not capitalize on skills you already have in the meantime?

Getting started in your legal career is exciting—and challenging. CEB has many resources to help you, including How-to Guides, CLE programs, books, forms, and discounts. And of course, there are many CEBblog™ posts geared toward new lawyers.

Check CEBblog™’s next post for the other five tips for new attorneys.

Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:

© The Regents of the University of California, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

3 replies on “Ten Things Every New Lawyer Should Know (Part 1)”

I definitely agree with getting all agreements and contracts in writing. Having it in writing ensures the safety of the lawyer as well as the client in case something goes wrong. Great job on the law tips, I hadn’t considered some of them before.

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