Work + Growth

How to Survive Your First Year in Big Law

  • Your first year at a BigLaw firm will be a whirlwind of long hours, stress, and new information
  • Help yourself by connecting with a mentor, learning not to be defensive about correction, and getting your name out there as someone eager to help
  • Don’t forget to make time to take care of your physical and mental health

You did it: You passed the bar, you aced the interviews, and you carefully chose the Big Law firm that seems like the best fit.

You are about to be extremely busy, extremely stressed, and expected to learn a daily mountain of information very quickly. You’re going to need some strategies to survive—and get noticed—in your first year.

Find a Mentor

The importance of the wisdom and inside knowledge a mentor can share with you cannot be overstated, especially in the whirlwind of your first year. Take care in selecting someone to fill this role; make sure your personalities mesh well and you can both get something positive out of the mentorship. If your firm has a formal mentor program, take advantage of it, but a mentor from outside of the firm can also be valuable to you, especially if you develop a relationship organically.

Leave Your Pride at the Door

You may have been at the top of your class and had your pick of firms interested in you, but now you are one of the newest and most inexperienced people at your job—and you’re most likely going to receive treatment that reflects that status. Expectations are going to be high while a lot of unfamiliar things are thrown at you. You are going to make mistakes, you will be corrected by impatient senior partners, and you may feel as if you are being scrutinized. Learn to resist becoming defensive. Take these interactions as learning experiences rather than as complaints that are about you as a person.

Take on a Wide Range of Assignments

It is imperative you make yourself available to take on a wide variety of work as it comes your way. You should take advantage of opportunities to work on projects in every practice group possible, even those you previously thought you weren’t interested in. Accepting different types of work and getting your name out there as a helpful person eager to pitch in will go far in ensuring your success. And of course, you’ll learn a ton.

What practice areas are you curious about, or what tasks would you like to tackle?

Pay Attention to Detail

This is the time to obsessively proofread, spellcheck, dot every “i” and cross every “t”—prepare everything you touch as if it is in final. This also goes for your email communications. Misspelled emails will give the impression that you are sloppy and unprofessional.

This is also not the time to ask for an extension when you’re given a deadline. In fact, finish early as often as you can. This will help you build up a solid reputation as someone who gets things done. You will eventually get to the point where you can ask for the occasional extension, because you’ll have built up a reputation and a high level of trust in the office.

Don’t Neglect Your Physical and Mental Health

It is all too easy to forget about basic human needs among the long hours, stress, and often break-neck pace of your first year. Do yourself a favor and make the effort to take care of yourself. Keep up your regular workouts and don’t let healthy eating fall by the wayside when time is tight. Taking care of your body and fueling it properly will ensure you have all the energy you need.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health—take it seriously. Practicing mindfulness, as well as meditation, can go a long way towards giving you moments to rest your mind and deal with stress throughout your workday. When you’re not at work, make your downtime count. Make an effort not to be so consumed by your job that you neglect your relationships with family and friends. Don’t abandon your hobbies and recreational activities in general, no matter how busy you become. Making room for those things is just as important for your body and mind as proper sleep is. After all, what’s the point of making your new, impressive salary if you never give yourself a little time off to enjoy it by doing something fun?