The Social Stuff
This is the second of two lists of “do’s and “don’ts” for those newly entering a legal practice environment—or those who employ them. Part 1 covered some tips about the work. The list below recognizes that law is usually practiced with other people (even if they are lawyers), and so you need to be mindful of various social issues that may crop up.
- You are now in a professional environment, so act that way. Be polite and dress appropriately. Keep an extra tie/shirt/blouse/shoes in your office if you plan on spilling your coffee.
- Attend the social events, but act as if you anticipate a future career in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Even if your colleagues may be acting inappropriately, hold yourself to a higher standard, avoiding conduct you generally wouldn’t want to see reported in Above the Law. Keep relationships with colleagues professional and avoid drinking too much around them (one successful alumna’s rule: no more than two drinks at work events, and make sure to stay until the senior lawyers leave).
- Remain mindful of the relationships you create with your fellow summer associates. Philadelphia is a small town in many ways; these folks will be your peers and/or colleagues for so long as you (and they) practice here.
- Nevertheless, try to find people who have fun and from whom you think you can learn. The latter, in particular—learning how to practice—is probably the most valuable aspect of any job early in your career (the money is nice, but you’ll likely earn it at a pretty low hourly rate).
- Be kind and generous to support staff, many of whom are paid terribly and work very hard. This includes the janitorial staff and the folks in whatever proxies for a photocopy department these days. You will depend heavily on these people and many legal employers (like most employers) treat them poorly.
- Be generous (but not slavish) with praise for others and modest about your own accomplishments (which are, in truth, likely to be modest at best, at this stage).
- Never leave a senior colleague’s or client’s email or phone call unanswered for more than an hour—even if only to say that you will get back to them when you have more time. They need to know you care.
- Avoid office politics and drama. You are, and should always be, above that fray.
- Never EVER let them see you sweat. Don’t get fresh, short-tempered, angry, sarcastic, or pathetic. You want to inspire confidence, which usually comes from being (i) correct; (ii) decent; and (iii) respectful.
- You are not the smartest person in the room—and if you are, you should be smart enough to know better than to act that way.
- Email lasts forever. Never write anything on social media or in any electronic medium that you would not want your parents/respected elders/law professors to see on the front page of The New York Times.
- Presume that everything—EVERYTHING—is confidential. Never talk shop to the media, friends at other firms, or even in the elevator with colleagues (which you may be tempted to do—because they will) if doing so presents any risk of revealing confidential or sensitive information.
- Finally: Be grateful. Having a bit of gratitude for this opportunity—especially in darker moments, when you may feel overwhelmed or morally vexed or exhausted or stupid—can provide some valuable perspective. You are incredibly fortunate to have an opportunity of this sort—as are we all, for the opportunities that have brought us to this point—and keeping that in mind can help make the foregoing nattering more plausible and/or palatable—and you more successful.
If you like this list—or don’t—let us know. If you have other, better suggestions, please let us know what they are. We’d love to hear from you.