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 (but see COVID-19), and so you need to be mindful of various social issues that may crop up.
The Social Stuff
- You are now in a professional environment, so act that way. Even if your interactions are entirely virtual, you should dress and behave as if you were physically at the office. Some offices may permit or encourage business casual; some may not. Find out and dress appropriately. Every day. Remember that on Zoom (or whatever you may use), everyone can hear your toilet flush; kitten filters are rarely “fun”; and “mute” may be your best silent partner.
- There may or may not be in-person social events, but there will almost certainly be virtual ones. Attend those, and act as if you anticipate a future career in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Even if your colleagues may behave 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, regardless of the social distance (one successful alumna’s rule: no more than two drinks at work events, and make sure to stay until the senior lawyers leave).
- If there are in-person opportunities, find out beforehand what COVID precautions are in place still, and what safety-related behaviors may still be expected. Check to see if your employer has any policy on vaccinations. This is a hotly-debated topic and, again, there is a variety of opinion and practice on this issue.
- 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. This will also confirm that you are “present” and engaged even if you are working remotely.
- Remain mindful of the relationships you create with your fellow summer associates. Many legal communities are fairly tightly knit. If you stay in Philadelphia, remember that these folks will be your peers and/or colleagues for so long as you (and they) practice here. Reputations tend to outlast memories.
- 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 end up earning 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 or mail department these days. You will depend heavily on these people and many legal employers (like many 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).
- 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 and other recorded electronic media last forever. Never write or say anything in any electronic medium (social media, email, etc.) 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 outside your employer, or (in a COVID-free future) 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. 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 tolerable—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.