by Mary Crane
If you are about to start your first job in the legal profession, your performance during the next several weeks will be absolutely critical to your success. Thus far, your GPA has helped demonstrate that you have the ability to acquire and use legal skills. Your summer employment experience will help demonstrate that you also possess a variety of non-technical skills—from developing business-social relationships that leave others feeling “this is someone with whom I’d like to work” to managing the psychological pressures associated with working in an intense environment in which priorities shift on an hour-by-hour basis.
The following checklist will help you successfully navigate the Summer of 2019.
Manage Time & Projects
- Set aside a chunk of time every Sunday to preview the week ahead. Review the status of ongoing assignments and key deadlines. Anticipate opportunities or challenges that could arise. Arrive in your office each Monday with a game plan for the week.
- Be prepared to constantly revise your game plan. Hour by hour, you may need to reprioritize specific tasks and larger assignments. Undertake regular head checks in which you ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing that I need to accomplish during the next 20 minutes?”
- Manage expectations. As soon as you realize that you may not meet a deadline, notify the relevant supervising lawyer. Do not put off this conversation. The sooner you inform a senior lawyer, the sooner they can put a work-around in place.
- Forget multi-tasking. Multiple studies have confirmed that the human brain is not structured to multi-task. Try performing two tasks at the same time, and you will only succeed in doing both tasks about 50 percent well. Instead of multi-taking, focus on mono-tasking. Give 20 minutes of undivided attention to your most important task. At the end of each 20-minute period, address emails and voicemails. Then repeat.
- Ask for feedback AND demonstrate that you hear and will respond to any criticism that you may receive. When a senior lawyer indicates that you need to improve a particular skill set, immediately visit your favorite recruiter and ask for assistance to address the issue. (Could you please point me to an online tutorial or a personal coach?)
- Keep stress in perspective. Yes, the legal profession is stress-filled. And yes, you will be asked to work long, hard hours. But it is unlikely that you will need to make the life-and-death decisions that military personnel, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and even airline pilots make on a regular basis.
- Understand that some stress can be positive. In fact, as every actor/actress will attest, a little stress can improve and enhance performance. View mild anxiety as a confirmation that your performance matters to you, to your employer, and to some end-user client. Use stress as an impetus to seek continuous improvement.
- Exercise consistently. While you may not feel “in charge” of anything at work, you can take control of a 30-minute exercise session. When you engage in aerobic exercise, your body releases endorphins that will trigger positive feelings and reduce stress. Your brain may also release a shot of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that also helps boost mood.
- Recognize when you find yourself resorting to less than healthful stress-reducing activities (drinking too much, eating too much, turning to various drugs, binge-watching Netflix, etc.). Thus far, you’ve sprinted through life—from high school, to college, and onto law school. This summer, you’re about to start a marathon. Think carefully about how you will sustain your body and your brain throughout a very long race. If you do so, then you’ll be able to reap all the rewards that the legal profession offers.
Manage Social Events
- R.S.V.P. as soon as you are invited to a business-social event (welcoming reception, business lunch or dinner, baseball game, etc.), and indicate that you either will or will not attend. Once you have indicated that you will attend, only an absolute emergency excuses your absence.
- If you happen to be an introvert, remember, it’s absolutely critical that you attend some of these events. Law firms are in the business of building relationships. Demonstrate that you have the ability to walk into a room filled with people whom you don’t know and initiate conversations.
- Understand that billable work always takes precedence. Yes, you must attend social events. However, when faced with an assignment that needs to be revised and a firm reception, billable work comes first.
- Before you attend a reception, prepare a handful of questions that you can ask anyone. These will encourage others to speak and thereby take pressure off of you to carry any conversation. Questions might include: What projects are you focused on this summer? Where were you employed as a Summer Associate, and what’s your best memory of that summer? Do you have summer vacation plans?
- At a reception, grab something to eat or a beverage, but never both at the same time. Keep one of your hands always available to meet and greet others.
- With regards to alcohol, don’t make an unforced error. Feel free to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer at any employer-sponsored event. However, know your limits and adhere to them. If you abstain from alcohol for any reason, do not feel pressured to consume alcohol throughout your summer employment.
Manage Business Meals
- When ordering, follow the lead of your host/hostess. If he/she orders an appetizer and an entrée, then you should do the same … even when you aren’t particularly hungry. The reverse also holds true.
- At business meals, order thoughtfully. Avoid any item that you don’t know how to eat or that tends to be messy … from a juicy burger, which may make it impossible for you to shake hands at the end of the meal, to pasta with red sauce, which can leave splatters on any white blouse or shirt.
- Avoid creating the appearance of being a person with lots of special needs. If you wish and/or need to adhere to specific dietary restrictions, quietly and quickly address these with the recruiting staff in your office and wait staff at any restaurant. If you order an item at lunch or dinner, and the meal that’s delivered doesn’t quite meet your expectations, please don’t make a fuss and send in back to the kitchen. Eat and enjoy whatever you can without complaint.
Who pays? In almost all cases, you can assume that others will pay for your meals this summer. However, keep in mind that whoever extends an invitation to a meal is responsible for picking up the tab. So, if you ask a senior associate or partner to lunch, because you would like to request some career advice, you’re responsible for the cost of both meals. When wait staff brings the check to the table, you should immediately reach for it. Should the senior associate or partner insist that you allow them to pay (Let me cover this—I remember what it’s like to be a summer associate), you may acquiesce. You should then follow-up with a thank-you note or email expressing your extra appreciation.
Mary Crane is a presenter on professionalism and business etiquette at the annual CDO’s Career Immersion program. To read more Things You Need to Know from Mary Crane, visit her blog at http://marycrane.com/things_you_need_to_know.