Ken Adams posted recent email correspondence with a young in-house lawyer who wrote asking for practice tips. Fresh out of law school and assigned to a one-man legal office in a foreign country, he’s about as isolated and self-sufficient as the Curiosity on Mars.
Several seasoned commercial attorneys who are regular contributors to the discussions on Ken’s The Koncise Drafter blog, including Chris Lemens and Mark Anderson (the proprietor of IP Draughts), responded with excellent advice. I’d recommend clicking over to the post and taking a few minutes to read the comments.
I don’t feel that I can add much to the exceptional answers on Ken’s blog to the young lawyer’s specific questions, but here are a few tips I’d offer to any young corporate lawyer:
Be a problem solver. I learned very early in practice that there are two types of corporate lawyers: deal stoppers and problem solvers. Both lawyers see the same issues when they review a transaction, but the deal stopper merely informs the business client about the problems — just the facts. If the deal stopper has a gate-keeping function, the deal dies or languishes. In contrast, the problem solver helps the client think through the issues in light of the business objectives and discover a solution.
Have a sense of proportionality. Documents aren’t equally important. Deals aren’t equally important. So a sense of proportionality is essential. It might be appropriate to thoroughly mark up a contract with the single-source supplier of your client’s most critical component, but it’s overkill to use the same level of scrutiny on the service contract for cleaning your client’s welcome rugs.
Invest in your skills from the beginning. One of the things I remember from reading Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits a few years ago is the concept of balancing production with production capacity (P/PC). Whether you’re in private practice or in-house, you’re paid for what you produce. But quality lawyering requires practice, study, knowledge, experience, wisdom … , qualities and competencies that must be developed over time. At least for a while during the middle of the last decade, it seemed that law firms completely abandoned investing in their attorneys’ production capacity while all efforts focused on increasing production, the rationale being that young lawyers learned by working on clients’ matters. Although on-the-job “training” is an essential part of developing competency as a lawyer, you also need to systematically read cases, study treatises, and research issues — in other words, think, study, and explore — if you want to be a good lawyer.
Know that things are a changing. We’re living through a period of tremendous change in the legal profession. I’m a young partner and things will be very different by the time I’m a seasoned veteran. That’s even more so for a lawyer just starting out. People who can’t adapt to the changed circumstances are probably going to have a tough go of it.
And here’s a bonus tip:
You’re not more important than other people. That’s all I have to say about that.
As the principal in a young law firm my advice for young lawyers would be to demonstrate a keen sense of humility, dedication and good but sensible work ethic.
I am a strong believer in putting in the long and hard hours early on in your career. Learn as much as you can early on in your career so that by your fifth year in practice you would by the have attained good and useful experience and confidence.
Network aggressively and sensibly. Attend functions that you are invited to. Be pleasant and always be willing to help.
For the females lawyers who wish to have a family one day, ensure that you put in all the long hard hours very early on in your career. Build and secure your place in the firm early. You will need this when you start having babies. By then, you would have been come such an asset that family emergencies and commitment can be better balanced and accepted by your colleagues at the office. You would have paid your dues by then.