Sleepless nights. Coffee and energy drinks. Stress. These were likely the staples of your time in law school. Now that you’re out, you’ve likely noticed that while caffeine is certain to remain an essential component in your diet, much has changed. As a professional attorney, your awareness of the shift in responsibilities can certainly be made easier with a shift in perspective. Here are a few things to be aware of as you tackle the world of barrister full force:
1) Time is of the essence
As a law student, you had the luxury of choosing classes that fit into your routine and designating time to study as it worked best for your lifestyle. However, as a professional attorney, you have clients with timelines you must respect and adhere to. Whether these hard deadline are dictated by statute, business decision, or pure personal want, you now must work within the parameters of a structured work-week. Try to arrive early—getting a jump on your day’s work is not only beneficial to your caseload, it will certainly get you noticed by the powers that be (i.e., senior associates and partners!). Dedicate different segments of your day each day to certain recurring tasks, and keep copious notes on what you have to do either via spreadsheet, a planner, or some other system of record-keeping that works for you. There are few things more satisfying than checking to-do items off your list, so be sure to keep up with what you’ve done, what you have left to do, and what’s coming down the pipeline later.
2) Accounting for every moment’s worth of work
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Ah, the billable hour. In addition to relinquishing the ability to set your own timelines, you now must provide justification for every single moment you are working. You are expected to track the time it takes to complete work for your clients with the knowledge that this tracked time will almost certainly be reviewed by a client who wants to makes sure he/she is getting their money’s worth. While in law school nobody really cared what your minutes were spent doing (except for maybe Mom and Dad, of course), but now that you’re being paid to apply all that law-school acquired knowledge, your accountability is of the utmost importance. The more surefire way to keep track of your time is to track your hours as you complete each task instead of waiting for a later time to backtrack your activities. If you are unable to access your billing software in the moment, be sure to write it down! A particularly simple, useful technique is to designate a yellow pad or calendar for keeping time in case you find yourself incapable of a formal write-up.
3) Collaboration is key.
While you may have completed group projects or been privy to several multi-member study sessions in law school, the end product when it came to clinching the grade ultimately always fell on you. However, as a practicing attorney, often times your work product is the result of a collaborative effort. The work you do is destined to receive quick, detailed, and continuous feedback from both your client and your superiors at your firm. The criticism and advice your work garners will be valuable in your growth within your chosen profession. Be open to the feedback you receive with the knowledge that these reactions from your colleagues will allow you to fine-tune your skillset, thereby increasing the likelihood that your final work product meets the needs of your client. You can learn so much from those who have been in the business longer than you have—so check whatever ego you may have at the door and relish the ability to work as a team toward a focused goal. Get to know your colleagues—your skills are certain to complement the work of others and vice versa, which only benefits you when that work product is as accomplished and effective as it can be.