Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lessons Learned on the Job

A random sampling of some things I've learned from work this summer . . .

1) About 80% of being a good attorney is learning how to ask the right questions, in the right way, to the right people, at the right time.

2) Even though it seems like there is, in law practice there's basically no mistake that's irreversible. Your client isn't going to just lose the case because you captioned their discovery responses incorrectly, like I did. Your office is not going to have bar complaints for breach of attorney-client privilege brought against it because you accidentally email one client private information intended for another client (also like I did). Just call the client, explain what happened, apologize, and ask them to please PLEASE delete the information. Mistakes are allowed. As long as you fix them.

3) That said, the details matter, and they need to be RIGHT. Everything needs to be cited correctly. Grammar and spelling need to be accurate. Complaints need to be filed in the right court in the right county. Use of legal authority must be appropriate and not misleading. All of these things are more of a credibility issue than anything else . . . do the little things right and you gain credibility, with the courts, with judges, with clients, and with other attorneys; overlook them and you lose it.

4) The scariest email you can ever get is an email from your boss that just says "come see me" with NO further explanation. This is more or less the adult version of getting sent to the principal's office.

5) Not everything you learn in law school is useful or necessarily even familiar to a practicing attorney. Case in point: if you ask one of the attorneys if the court rules for a particular county require briefs to contain parallel citations, they'll say, "What are you even talking about?!"

6) You can only help your client to the extent that they want to help themselves.

7) Clients will ask you out on dates, and try to write their own demand letters because they think yours wasn't good enough, and try to bring champagne to their depositions, and just in general make your life a WHOLE lot more interesting.

8) Make enough phone calls to random people who may or may not want to hear from you, and have enough awkward meetings, and you'll realize that you no longer even have a comfort zone because your tolerance for extreme awkwardness is through the roof. I could call or speak in person with pretty much anyone after this summer, and I wouldn't feel awkward about it anymore because chances are good I did something even more awkward at some point this summer!

9) Law school doesn't teach you how to practice law. Practicing law teaches you how to practice law. That said, my classes have been indispensable this summer. I would have crashed and burned without what I've learned these past two years. You have to have that foundation of basic knowledge before you can learn how it all fits together in practice.

10) Work ethic and character are more important than doing your actual job perfectly. I may not be able to do my job tasks perfectly (well, I know that I can't!), but I want my character and reputation to be impeccable. Anyone can achieve this. Be on time. Respect people. Do what you say you're going to do. Do the tasks nobody else wants to do. Go above and beyond. Be honest. Take the time to get the details right, and refuse to cut corners. When you make a mistake, admit it and make it right. Thank people for what they do for you. Don't complain. And a liberal use of "sir" and "ma'am," at least here in the South, goes a LONG way. Listen to people. Take responsibility for your own attitude and actions. These simple things that anyone can do in the workplace will get you a lot further than futile efforts to do your job 100% perfectly.

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