Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.
Recently I read in the Chicago Tribune a short article offering tips to recent college graduates about how to behave on the job. It struck me how simplistic those tips sounded when you compare them to what is expected from new law school grads beginning their law career.
I am comparing someone who has already been educated in a profession to an undergrad, I know, but for the first few months as a lawyer, there isn’t much difference in “life knowledge” of a recent college grad and a law school grad. Yes, the law school survivor knows a lot more and has theoretically been taught to think as a lawyer, but he or she has not been out practicing yet.
For people who go directly from college to law school there isn’t much immediate difference between emerging with a law degree to being handed a B.A. diploma, for example. The differences quickly develop though, as law school graduates proceed into their new roles as attorneys.
One of the tips for new grads is not to gossip in the workplace. Good advice in any work setting, but loaded with consequences for a new lawyer. As a new attorney, deciding what you can talk about and what you can’t is difficult. The more involved you become in your practice, the less you decide to talk about your firm and your practice. Talking about clients or cases with the wrong person, or discussing what goes on in the workplace can result in serious ethics violations. There have even been situations where attorneys reading case materials in a public place, like a train, where other people can look over their shoulder, have been up for disciplinary action.
Among the tips discussed in the article are being reliable and its mirror image, procrastinating, respectively. While putting things off may be fairly harmless in a regular work setting, procrastination by an attorney can cost him his law license. Missing a crucial court date or a filing date can have serious repercussions on an attorney’s career. Being reliable is the essence of being a lawyer. As advocates for our clients reliability is expected and required.
The article recommends keeping your voice at a moderate level. A lawyer’s voice can be, in certain settings, an integral part of her strategy. Certainly the loudness and the tone of your voice is a tool at trial, and even in front of certain judges at a simple motion call or hearing. When I first started practicing I was occasionally drowned out by loud opponents and quickly learned how to use my voice to keep the judge’s attention. If you can’t be heard you won’t prevail.
The article warns against making personal phone calls at work and surfing the web or spending time on social networks. In my experience, there is never time to do any of these things. Most lawyers are so busy that they struggle to keep up with client matters, or, they have an hourly billing requirement and doing any personal business at work is an impossibility.
The contrast between being a business person and working as a lawyer is stark when it comes to positive or negative behaviors. It wasn’t long after I began practicing as a lawyer that I became sharply aware of the awesome responsibility that goes with being an attorney. Having experienced the business workplace as an executive in charge of seven-figure budgets and many personnel was not as significant as having responsibility for whether a mother keeps custody of her child or whether an unemployed person can keep a roof over their family.