About now, a throng of baby lawyers is starting life in a new law firm. They have graduated from law school. Many have that plum job in their pockets. The bar exam is done and dusted.
Confident in their prospects for passing marks in the next chapter of their lives, these fresh faces are about to launch into professional life, right after a modest "bar trip" to Europe, of course. That goes without saying.
Upon returning from that European vacation, it's time to get to work. But never fear. The tried-and-true tactics that have worked so far are all that's needed to succeed as a real lawyer.
First, have confidence in the summer clerkship program that resulted in this plum job. Law practice is pretty much exactly like the summer clerkship program.
Pay no attention to the senior lawyers who are already in the office when one arrives at 9:30 on Monday morning (and every morning). Pay no attention to those Luddites who eat lunch out of a bag rather than go off campus. Take no notice if they are still at their desks instead of toddling out for happy hour on a Tuesday. They clearly did not get the memo that law is a glamorous, fun profession.
Second, feel confident in the quality of one's legal education. Law practice is pretty much exactly like law school — especially the third year of law school. There is very little judgment or discernment involved in the real world. New lawyers are bound to succeed just by showing up, spotting all the issues (no matter how tangential) and B.S.-ing their way through every possible argument. As in law school, high marks only require being marginally more clever than two-thirds of the other lawyers in the room.
This kind of confidence necessarily leads to a number of corollary rules. For example, all of these new graduates went to law school much more recently than any of the lawyers who hired them. Surely, these wizened old souls are counting on all of this freshly minted know-how. So by all means, give it to them, whether they seem to need it or not. They are sure to be grateful for it. After all, the practice of law is 90 percent self-promotion. The other half is who you know. So name-dropping never hurts either.
"But what about the work?" the nervous overachiever might ask. Yes, Virginia, there is work. But work pales in comparison to the need for getting the credit. Quiet competence is a relic of the 19th century and medieval guilds. It is better to look good than to actually be good.
Thus, looking busy is paramount. So, fill that time sheet. Never say no to work. And especially don't seek the assistance of a supervising lawyer in figuring out when to say "when." Load up on swarms of projects without regard to deadlines or how much time the tasks will take.
Upon sucking up all that work, exhibit supreme confidence in comprehending the depth and requirements of any assignment, whether or not it is true. Asking questions is a confession of weakness. Lawyers, like ferocious animals, can sense fear. Better to work in secret than to show weakness. After all, qualifying for a job like this requires superior law school grades. What more could there possibly be to learn?
But, be sure to mind those deadlines. Work and bill right up to the 11th hour. This tactic also avoids having one's work pencil-whipped by a senior lawyer. Given an excellent past performance in law school, work product in the real world is unlikely to need any additional thought or revision. Instead, knowing that one has nailed the assignment, one should simply email it to the supervisor late on a Friday afternoon and saunter into another well-earned weekend.
Sure, this might mean the partner winds up working the weekend to make a Monday filing on an assignment handed down over a month ago. Sure, turning in that assignment a week or two before the filing deadline could avoid that unpleasant scenario. But where is it written that partners don't work weekends? Indeed, they seem to like it, if their attendance at the office and weekend emails are any indication. They're clearly just masochistic and haven't learned how to manage their time well.
In completing these assignments, one should not sink below one's station. Status matters. Grammar, spelling and citation format are for secretaries and paralegals, not for someone with a professional degree. If the supervising attorney winds up personally working on things like that, so be it. Just do the deep thinking. Turning in something that is ready to be filed or sent to the client is not part of the job.
Unfortunately, many baby lawyers may have grown up listening to voices who incessantly warn that humility and hard work count. They would say one should listen more than one talks and think more than one acts. They would say that the practice of law can only be learned by observing experienced lawyers. They would advise attaching oneself to lawyers worthy of admiration and then emulating them. Ask them questions. Understand their clients. Get their input early and often. And above all, make their jobs easier. Those voices would recommend treating supervisors as the most-valued clients.
Reject these voices. You are not a labor-saving device engaged to learn the profession and provide superior quality services to the clients of a supervising lawyer. You are a professional, a law school graduate, one of some 46,000 such graduates this year.
And being one in 46,000 is really something.