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Career Center: Ten Things Every Law Student Should Know Before Starting at a Law Firm

Think back when you were five years old and learning how to swim. A parent or an older sibling probably took you to a pool or pond, told you to hold your breath, and then pushed you in. Your head went underwater, you flailed your arms, and swallowed enough water to fill a gallon jug. Eventually, you made yourself learn how to tread water and keep your head above water.

Hope you enjoyed that trip down memory lane; if you are a law student, you will be learning how to swim on your first days at work — and fast.

There is no substitution for learning on the job, but there are some things future associates should consider before taking the plunge into the deep end. Check out the following tips, courtesy of Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, and use them as your flotation device during your first few days as a law firm associate….

Be professional… always. You will establish your reputation early in your career, so be wary about your emails, phone calls, and conversations. Reputation at the firm matters, and junior associates’ (and summer associates’) reputations carry with them for many years. It takes years of diligence and trust to develop a reputation; it only takes one unprofessional email to ruin it. Also, part of being professional is being respectful to everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone (associates, paralegals, secretaries, security guards, janitors, etc.). Treat others as you would want to be treated — it is that simple.

Know your deadlines. For every assignment, always ascertain the deadline and find out if it is a soft or hard deadline. A hard deadline is the absolute final date that an assignment must be completed by (e.g., a filing date); soft deadlines are typically internal to the firm or a partner. Regardless of the type of deadline, you should be diligent either way and get your assignments complete on time. By knowing your deadlines and planning in advance, you can plan your personal life around your professional life. Sometimes deadlines will interfere no matter how diligent you are with your schedule. In that case, suck it up unless it is really important.

Make your rough drafts solid. A rough draft should be as close to perfect as possible. “Rough” only refers to the legal analysis, not the writing, grammar, or spelling. Your rough draft should not look like a drunk text you sent the previous weekend, so no cute abbreviations or emoticons. Any notations or comments that make sense only to you should be removed or clarified.

Be a positive worker. Be a team player and positive with senior associates, so work with a smile. No one really likes working, but people like it even less if they have to work with individuals who are downers. You want to be the type of person that people will want to work with, which usually means you will be in the best position to get the good work, and be sought out for the best assignments. Obviously, you also have to do good work (not just about attitude), but you will be in a better position if you are positive with your time at the firm.

Continue on to “swimming tips” 5 through 10 by clicking here. While you are at it, be sure to check out additional career articles, as well as profiles of individual law firms, at the Career Center.