Tips for Young Lawyers

Tips for Young Lawyers

Think you’re too old for a mentor?  Think again
By: Mark Clasby

Practicing law is easy, it’s the other stuff that’s hard.

So you’re an <insert position> now, great things are going to be expected of you.  Your boss will expect you to know what you’re doing, your support staff will expect you to provide them with the right information.  Your clients will expect you to deliver results.  And your friends and family will expect you to remember they are still there.  So how do you handle it all?  Long gone are the days of hand holding and limited responsibilities.  

We practice law for a reason.  It’s always changing, always evolving.  A partner told me yesterday that young associates should worry less because there is very little you can do that can’t be undone.  There is comfort in that statement.  A lot of what we do starting out is trial and error.  There are procedures and ways to do things, but we have to figure out what works for us and for our clients.  While much of that is done on our own, it is also important to have people in our lives to help us along the way.

Having a support system in place to help us explore new waters and opportunities can help ease stressful situations before they arise.  I opened my own firm this summer and felt like I was constantly burdening my friends who have been practicing longer than I have.  Because of this I stopped reaching out to them, and then I started to doubt myself.  I found them reaching out to me, to see how things were going, to see if I needed help with anything.  I felt horrible for not reaching out to them, but I wanted to prove to them that I could do it without them.  Why?  Because of my ego?  Because I didn’t want their help?  Because I thought it would make me less of an attorney?

I have no problem asking people I trust for help regarding all other aspects of my life, why was it so hard for me to ask for help from people who cared about me and were asking to help me?  They wanted to see me succeed and for some reason I didn’t ask them for help when I should have.  I have always told people that asking for help is a strength, it’s not a weakness.

Mentors are essential in the legal industry.  They’ve been through what you are going through.  They are an extra set of eyes, that maybe haven’t pulled three consecutive all-nighters this week.  They know you.  And most of all, they want to help you succeed.  Don’t feel bad for doing something for yourself.  Feel like you’re a burden on a mentor? Add a couple of them, that way you don’t feel like you’re asking too much of one.  If I learned anything this summer, it’s let them tell you they can’t help you, versus you telling yourself they won’t help you.

Law school taught us to think like lawyers, passing the bar exam enabled us to be lawyers, but what about the apprenticeship period?  Was it just the clerkship or internships you had during school?  The roadmap is blank once you’re sworn in.  For example, the other side wants an extension, the Texas Lawyer’s Creed says I should be respectful of them, but I’m not sure their reasons are honest.  What do I do?

Pay it forward.  It’s a phrase I’d never heard until I worked in the legal field.  I grew up with do unto others as you would have done unto you.  I have tried to live by that rule.  Pay it forward is a shorter more direct rule.  Everyone needs help at some point, so don’t be afraid to accept help or to even ask for it.  Just remember to help someone else.

Mentors can be anyone in your life.  They can be younger than you, they can be an attorney, they can be your trainer, whomever.  If you respect their opinion and you can go to them, then I urge you to do so.

Our profession can be overwhelming at times.  It can chew us up and spit us out.  But it doesn’t have to.  If we take care of our self, it can be rewarding on so many levels.  Having a mentor or mentors really does take some of the stresses away, and help set us up to serve our clients as best we can. 

Do you have someone to call?  How often do you go to breakfast or lunch with someone?  Do you work out with someone you respect?  Or get together to play golf with someone to get out and get ideas out?  Do you regularly go for coffee and drinks with someone to advance your thoughts?  Do you trade emails with anyone who is not directly working on the project you are?

Mentors can be incorporated into your life in so many ways.  From something as simple as an email, to meeting at the gym, or for breakfast.  Remember how great it was to hear a parent say, good job, you’re on the right track?  Or when they took a couple minutes to show you a better way to do something?  When do you get too old for that?  Do you no longer like better ways to do something?  Are you no longer a fan of hearing good job?  Then why are you too old for a mentor?

You probably don’t need your hand held now, and training wheels or floaties might be a little much, but depending on how confident you are, you may want some kind of security boost.  Once your confidence grows a little, you can tone it back.  Knowing all the while that the person is there if you need them.  You may find you use them more and more, but in a different way as you gain confidence.  Now instead of a mentor, you have a trusted confidant.  In time they may begin to seek your advice on things.  Maybe the relationship only lasts a few months.  But the few months were essential to your development as an attorney.  Is there a price that can be put on that?  Mentoring only requires the giving of one’s self, being true to one’s self.  That’s free.  You may gain nothing at all, in which case you are out nothing.  But you may gain everything, in which case a quick cost-benefit analysis shows a major win for you.

So how do you choose a mentor?  There’s no right way.  There’s no set limit to how many you can have, or even what walk of life they must come from.  As an attorney it is my experience that you want someone in your field, someone who has dealt with similar issues.  But if you are struggling with confidence, or substance abuse, a particular judge, or your home life, then perhaps finding someone that has been through that exact thing is who you need to call.

Maybe you want a neutral party, someone who has no prior relationship with you… that kind of mentor is out there too.  A minister, trainer, or friend you respect can offer incredible insight based on their existing relationship with you.

So in conclusion, don’t be afraid to ask for help, you’re not in this alone, and trying to go at it alone could have drastic consequences.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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