Congrats! The hard work of law school is over.
Of course, that means the hard work of your law career is about to begin.
Any nerves and excitement you feel at the prospect of beginning your time as a first-year associate are normal. After all, you’re about to learn a lot during what will certainly be a busy year full of new experiences. The key is doing your best to set yourself up for success. Below, five of the top tips for fitting in—and succeeding—as a first-year associate.
There’s no easy way to put this: You’re going to be working a lot. It’s going to take some time before you have a handle on what your life after law school is like, so don’t panic if it takes a little trial and error before you’re able to get in a groove. Do what you can to prepare for your new reality, and in the meantime, use more experienced colleagues as role models. It can help to let close friends and family know your first few months on the job will be challenging, that you might not have control over your schedule right away, and could use their patience and support.
Remember all the complaining about assignments and exams you and your law school friends engaged in over the last three years? That all ends now. Don’t grumble about the long hours, workload, partners, or anything else at your new job—your most successful colleagues don’t, so you shouldn’t either. Instead, remain as professional and positive as possible, especially when accepting new work (even if it’s not for the partner or associate you were hoping to work with).
Be honest both with yourself and others at your firm, even when it’s hard. In the race to impress more senior colleagues, it can be difficult to say no to a new assignment or admit when you’ve made a mistake. However, it’s extremely important to know your limits and ask for help when you need it. While you certainly want to be perceived as capable, you’ll be doing yourself no favors by taking on too much and getting pulled in too many directions. Similarly, while your gut instinct might be to try to fix any mistakes you make on your own, you run the risk of making things worse.
Most firms plan outside-of-the-office events throughout the year, so attend them when you can. Doing so will help you get a sense of your colleagues in a more laid-back atmosphere. You’re going to be spending a lot of time around your coworkers; getting to know them on a personal level will make your work significantly more enjoyable. Face time outside of the office is also important for building trust with colleagues and can help you in the search for a mentor.
Strive for Balance
Stereotypes of lawyers working late into the night and through the weekend exist for a reason: There’s some unfortunate truth to them. However, it’s both important and possible to work hard and work well but to have fun, too. What can you do to make the likelihood of free time outside of work more probable? Would it help if you came into work an hour earlier? Are you able to get some work done on your train commute in? Organize and plan as much as you can to ensure at least a little time for yourself outside of the office. It will go a long way toward helping you feel comfortable in your position.
Take Care of Yourself
With all the pressure to succeed at your job, network, and—oh yeah—try to have a life, it can be easy to let one important thing fall to the wayside: your health. As important as everything else on this list is for first-years who wish to excel, none of it matters if you don’t take care of yourself. Resist the urge to get by on only a few hours of sleep a night and strive for a regular schedule of zzz’s most days of the week. Be sure to plan vacations or time away from the office in an effort to avoid burnout (trust us, it’s real). Do your best to eat healthfully and stay active when your schedule permits.
The adjustment to the lawyer life can be a tough one, but a little preparation and working to fit in can help the transition go smoothly. Remember, others have been there before you. Don’t hesitate to ask more senior colleagues for advice as often as the need arises.