Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tips for Brand-New Attorneys

So this week has involved many hours writing a trial brief on contract construction/ parol evidence, getting ready for a big hearing, consoling/ counseling tearful clients, doing subpoenas, writing consolidated orders, etc. Over the last few weeks I've been thinking about some of the tips I would offer new associates, just out of what I've learned in my first year so far. Here's a few:

1) There's no such thing as a first draft--ever. Assume that your work product, once it leaves your hands, could be filed with the court, submitted to opposing counsel, presented to a client, etc., with absolutely no changes or time for revisions. In other words, whatever work you give to your assigning partner had better be a final draft--captioned correctly, with any certificates of service included, totally ready to go. If you don't do this, you run the risk of having your work being labeled as sloppy.

2) Learn the preferences of your assigning partners and supervisors, even if you think they are nitpicky. Find out exactly how anyone who is assigning you work wants it to be completed--printed or emailed? Paper-clipped or stapled? Find out each person's stylistic preferences for pleadings and motions--and don't just stop there, make a running list of the types of edits you receive on work from each partner so that you can start to learn what they do and do not like. It's impressive when a partner doesn't have to tell an associate something twice because the associate referred back to The List before turning in another assignment to that partner.

3) Read this article. Do basically everything it says. Better yet, print it out, highlight it, and ever so casually leave a copy laying on your desk for when the partners come into your office (as I have unashamedly done).

4) Start carving out an area of expertise as soon as possible, read as much as you can about that topic, and make it known to others that you are really interested in that area so that they are more likely to assign cases in that area to you. I've made it known in my practice group that I love working with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Since 90% of family law attorneys hate those cases and I actually really like them, I've been given a lot of responsibility on any cases that our firm gets that have to do with the UCCJEA.

5) Make a professional development plan. My plan includes hard skills I would like to develop (taking a deposition, arguing a motion, writing a significant brief or motion for summary judgment, etc.), classes and conferences I would like to attend, networking activities I would like to be involved in, soft skills I would like to develop (things like being a better listener, taking more initiative, etc.), and industry publications I'm committing to keeping up with (and, down the road, hopefully writing articles for). Put deadlines into the plan. "By ____ date, I would like to have handled a client meeting by myself." This plan should also be printed out and casually placed on your desk next to that article described in point #3.

6) Do the job before you have it. If you want to be a partner at your firm someday, you need to start thinking, working, and strategizing on your cases as if you already are one. If you were handling the case by yourself, what would you do? Don't be afraid to offer unsolicited ideas on case strategy to partners, to take the initiative to research ideas on your own and present them as options to partners, and even to present alternative solutions to a problem.

7) Do the little things well. Always keep up with your billing; no one should have to ask you to do this. Proofread all of your emails before you hit send--it's amazing how often people don't do this. Keep up with your paperwork and keep your office reasonably organized, or else people might think you are a slob. Always show up to everything on time, even if it's just a quick meeting in the office.

8) Networking is now your job just as much as it was before you had a job. Go to events, join your local bar association, volunteer somewhere, and follow up with people you meet. This is how you begin to establish both your reputation in the legal community and a client base.

9) Volunteer for anything and everything you can. Volunteer to write short articles for your local bar association newsletter, to draft up new policies for your firm on e-discovery, to head up fundraising for the campaign to raise money for pro bono organizations, etc. Demonstrate a willingness to jump into things with energy and enthusiasm and the greater opportunities won't be too far away.

10) Don't wear green nail polish to work.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Attempted Return to the Blogging World

Readers, I know it has been a long time. And some of you probably about gave up on me ever writing again, which I can't say I blame you for! I've realized lately that this blog is one of several things that I really enjoyed doing in law school and then just kind of stopped doing, for no good reason, once I moved and started working full-time. I know that's pretty common when we make a big transition--we get busy and totally caught up in new things and then suddenly realize that we've let some things we really enjoy fall by the wayside. And that's exactly the way I feel about this blog. I have so enjoyed sharing my thoughts, pictures, goals, life events, and so forth with each of you over the last three years, and I'm just not ready to call it quits on this blog yet. I also can't use "I'm too busy" as a legitimate excuse because I'm honestly no busier than I was in law school, it's just a different kind of busy that comes with working at a firm vs. juggling classes and a million extracurricular activities in law school. So, with that said, I'm ready to get back into this. And honestly, even if my writing only impacts approximately three people, it's still totally worthwhile to me.

So here are some general updates from the last few months:
  • I have worked at my law firm for approximately 8 months now. It definitely doesn't feel like that long! I am excited about how much more I know now and am comfortable with now than I was even a few short months ago. I still greatly enjoy working with family law clients and on the types of cases we handle. I find it to be so meaningful and something that I feel like I can make a difference doing.
  • Meagan and I head out to Haiti for our second annual mission/ volunteer/ love on all the children trip in just two weeks! This year we'll be in the village of Mesaye, painting, planting trees, spending time with kids, going to the local Haitian church, distributing health kits to families and teaching them about basic hygiene, etc. I am so excited!
  • I just ran my third half marathon yesterday and beat my previous personal best by 15 minutes! I love these runs because they make me realize that even though I am not (and have never been) athletic or even particularly strong, I am still capable of pushing myself hard and getting across that finish line. My personal record to finish those 13.1 miles now stands at 3 hours and 3 minutes, which I know most people would probably consider unbelievably slow, but for me, it's still something I'm proud of because a few years ago, I never would have thought I could run that far, period.
  • I'm getting prepared for a whirlwind summer of travel. Plans include the Haiti trip (obviously), going to Florida for a work conference in May, going to Chicago for work in June, and then going to New York and Florida in July. Chicago, New York, and Florida are actually three weekends in a row . . . that could get pretty crazy, especially since I'm not taking any days off for any of the trips but am just squeezing them into the weekends. And of course, I definitely want to go on Lauren's third annual Tybee Island beach vacation, which may end up happening over Labor Day weekend because I can't take any more days off because, in addition to my week off for Haiti, Meagan and I are planning a big trip to Europe at the end of November (Iceland, France, Italy, Luxembourg). We are incredibly excited! #singleladiestraveling
  • I am still loving my not-so-new-anymore apartment, and my cat, and exploring and learning all the ins and outs of this beautiful city. I've found my favorite places to go running, and the coffee shop that just feels like home and where I can write for hours, and a church that I really love, and my favorite places to eat and shop and go hiking and take friends when they come visit me. I'm still working on really developing a social life and strong friendships and community here, but I know that that is a process that can take a long time, so I'm just trying to keep putting myself out there.
  • I just read Lisa Scottoline's latest book, Keep Quiet, and it is great! I have a ton of other books on my "to read" list, including The Innocent Man by John Grisham, Leaving Time and The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (duh I have some Jodi Picoult books on this list--love her!), Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and more. I want to start reading at least one book a week, because I know that is totally doable, and a much better use of my time than just watching TV. 
  • I am loving Passion's new album, Even So Come. The link is to one of the songs, but they are all amazing. I have been playing them in my car nonstop. 
  • I am getting ready to start a personal Bible-reading journey through the Psalms (which may definitely lend itself to some blog posts in the future). I am eager to get back into a devotional routine--this is something I have really struggled with in the last few months, and I know it has not been the priority for me that it certainly should be. If you have any tips on how to make time for quality Bible study, let me know in the comments. 
Well, that's it for now. I hope you all are enjoying your Sundays!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Press On

Some of you have asked me to share a little more about my upcoming trip to Haiti and why serving kids and families in a totally different country than my own means so much to me. I'm hoping maybe I can explain that a little bit more by sharing a couple verses with you.

Hosea 6:3 says, "Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring." I have always loved this verse because it portrays knowing God as something we work at and push for and strain for--it doesn't always come naturally and it involves seeking after Him with all our hearts--but the reward is so beautiful and so certain. He will respond to us as surely as even the changing of the seasons.

But then what does it mean, exactly, to know the Lord? This is such a multifaceted concept and I know I can't fully dig into that in this small space....but Jeremiah 22:16 shares at least one thing that knowing the Lord most definitely encompasses. It says, "He defended the rights of the poor and needy . . . isn't that what it means to know me?"

Well, isn't it? God's heart is for the poor and needy and broken and voiceless, and it's always been that way! If you tried to cut out every part of Scripture where it talks about justice for the poor, helping the needy and orphans and widows, and speaking up for those who can't speak up for themselves, your Bible would literally be full of holes because it's everywhere. Everywhere. God spoke up for us when we couldn't speak up for ourselves! While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He stood in the gap for us. He fully embraced our brokenness and took our dirt and grime and scars and shame upon himself. The economy of God has never favored the rich and powerful! The economy of God blesses the last in line, the utterly devastated, the outcasts, the sick, the impoverished, and the desperate . . . a woman who's been bleeding for 12 years, a criminal gasping out his final breaths on a cross, a widow down to her last two pennies. And we are each commanded over and over again in Scripture to jump on board with God's way of looking at things, to embrace His deeply compassionate heart, knowing that whatever we do for the least of these, we are truly, truly doing for Him.

Isn't this one major way in which we can press on to know the Lord? If God's heart is for the poor and broken--both physically and spiritually--how can ours not be as well? As Christians, we are called to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken, hurting, hungry, impoverished world. We can't be content to just sit back and let suffering happen, or let injustices prevail. It's easier and more convenient and rocks our world less to sit back and do nothing, but I just can't sit back and do nothing. I'm not willing to sit back and do nothing when there are needs to be met, cups of cold water to be given out, love to be offered in tangible, practical ways to people who need it the most. When we love other people in this way, we are pressing on to know the Lord! We press on to know and acknowledge the Lord when we get behind what He is behind and go where He goes, because His grace goes absolutely everywhere . . . to the prisons and brothels and crack houses and homeless shelters and orphanages, and to desperately poor villages in need of hope like Titanyen, Haiti. I want to know God more deeply today than I knew Him yesterday, and when we love the broken, we press on to know the Lord because that is SO near and dear to the heart of God. There's a lot of desperate need in Haiti, and there's a lot of need right in front of us, too, in our own communities. I feel a strong calling to be a part of what God is doing in Haiti and such a love for the people there, and ultimately I feel an overwhelming urge to hear the heartbeat of God wherever I go, whether it's loving orphans in a tiny Haitian village or fighting for children to be protected by our legal system at my job every day. God's made it so clear that His heart beats for the broken and needy, so shouldn't ours too? Let's be about our Father's business and love what He loves and be passionate about what He is passionate about, because this is part of what it means to press on and push forward and lay aside every hindrance to know the Lord. We serve and love because He first loved us. We are the instruments of His grace because we have first received His grace. And I want my life to be well done, not just well said . . . don't you?

Press on.