Expert advice on becoming a better lawyer.
While law school prepares you to think like a lawyer, it does not teach you how to be successful working at a lawfirm. The New Lawyer's Handbook teaches you the 101 things you need to know in order to excel in law firm life.
From how to handle your clients, and how to work with people in your office, to why it pays to learn to play golf and how to maintain some semblance of a family life even as you make your billables, this book gives you the advice you need to succeed.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Section I: Starting Out Right at a Law Firm
Two dogs are chasing a car and one says to the other, "What are you going to do if you catch it?"
That is exactly the way I felt at the beginning of my legal career. I had been chasing this dream of being a lawyer for so long, and when I had everything I neededmy college degree, my law degree, and my license to practiceI was a little uncertain about what would come next.
Despite the uncertainty you may be feeling, stay positive, pay attention to detail, and work hard. If you can do that, your transition from student to lawyer will be a smooth one.
1. Get the Details of Your Employment Agreement in Writing
When it comes to their own business affairs, attorneys are notorious for failing to get the terms of their agreements in writing. You would never tell a client to do business on a handshake, so why would you do it yourself? It is important to start your job off right by getting the terms of your employment in writing.
If you are a new attorney, getting the employment agreement you want is a four-part process:
1. Do some research and be prepared to negotiate your agreement. Get to know the Career Services Director at your law school. The director's job is to help both students and graduates find the job they want. He or she will have a wealth of knowledge about the range of salary and benefits you might expect given your education and experience and the size and location of the firm. If you are going straight into a partnership situation or are office-sharing with someone, you need very specific information from the firm itself about past profits and expenses so that you can determine how future profits and expenses will be shared.
2. Keep an open mind during negotiations. Don't be so set on a particular salary range that you overlook a firm that has amazing benefits or opportunities. That being said, if you work hard, you will be worth every penny the firm pays you, so do not be shy about fighting for the salary you believe you are worth.
3. Get the agreement in writing. If you fail to do this, you make it easier for your employer to avoid living up to his or her part of the deal.
4. Don't sign the agreement until you've had another lawyer look at it. Even if it's a friend or mentor and not someone you've actually hired, it's always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes check it over.
2. Appearances Matter
When I say that appearances matter in your law practice, I am not suggesting that you need expensive suits and expensive cars. My dad says that a bad golfer with nice equipment is still a bad golfer. However, even though it is true that the finest suit will not make you a good lawyer, there is still a certain threshold of acceptable appearance that is expected of you.
Throughout your career, you will see attorneys who should immediately be reported to the Legal Fashion Police. The most extreme example is the attorney who went to visit her client at the detention facility wearing a tube top. That's right, the attorney was wearing a tube top. Even the facility expressed their disapproval of her clothing choice.
So put your tube top away and ask yourself these questions to determine whether or not your appearance is appropriate:
1. How do I look? When my clients look at me, will they have confidence in me as their attorney? Am I dressed modestly and tastefully? Are my clothes too tight or too loose? Are my teeth clean? Would a judge think I am dressed appropriately? No one will want to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to someone who has body odor and bad breath. You are a professional. So look like one. If you have no idea how to do that, go to a clothing store or department store and a sales associate will be glad to help you put some outfits together.
2. How does my office look? Has my client's file been compiled in an orderly fashion? When my clients see my office, will they have confidence that I won't lose their documents? Do I have stacks of paper everywhere? Are there stale donuts and soda cans strewn everywhere? To a client in crisis, these are not good signs. If a client comes in unexpectedly and I have a full desk, my assistant and I have a designated spot where we stash the clutter. Avoid shoving it in your desk because you don't want documents to get lost or misplaced.
3. How does my assistant look? How does her work area look? Is he dressed neatly? Is he or she trying to make clients feel welcome and important? The appearance and attitude of your assistant is a direct reflection on you so pay attention.
While expensive clothes and furniture might make a certain first impression, competence and professionalism will make a lasting one.
Table of Contents
Section I: Starting Out Right at a Law Firm
1. Get the details of your employment agreement in writing
2. Appearances matter
3. Have extra essentials at the office
4. Work when you are at work
5. A to-do list is your constant companion
6. The importance of having a good assistant
7. When you're an associate, draft means final
8. You don't know everything
Section II: Understanding Law Firm Politics
9. When your law office is more like the set of Survivor
10. Avoid having a romantic relationship with someone in your office
11. Foster a close relationship with someone in your office who has your back
12. It helps to be a golfer
13. What to do if a colleague is struggling
Section III: General Tips for Having a Successful Practice
14. Avoiding legal pet peeves
15. Don't tolerate bad behavior
16. Learn to be a better listener and a better communicator
17. Don't give advice to strangers over the phone
18. Resist the pressure to take a case you're not qualified to take
19. Find experienced lawyers you can talk to
20. Don't procrastinate
21. What to do when opposing counsel is a jerk
22. You can always be a jerk later
23. Think twice before accusing someone of an ethical violation
Section IV: The Business of Practicing Law
24. Be as involved as possible in your law firm's finances
25. The importance of a good filing system
26. Earning a living as a lawyer is a tough buck
27. How to build your practice
28. Treat your client like a customer
29. Get the money up front
30. How to close a case
31. Never let your malpractice insurance lapse
32. Keep up with your billable hours
33. Legal research isn't free anymore
34. Disaster planning
Section V: Becoming Comfortable with Technology
35. Stay on top of technology but don't be a slave to it
36. Know how to operate the office machines
37. Cell phone etiquette
38. Be careful with emails
39. The impact of the Internet
Section VI: Working with Clients
40. The importance of the attorney-client privilege
41. Do not judge
42. Don't give anyone a blank check on credibility
43. Keep a box of tissue on your desk
44. Not every attorney is for every client
45. Beware of the client who has fired his or her first attorney
46. When gender matters
47. Should you represent family and friends?
48. Make sure you and your client have the same expectations
49. Don't give guarantees
50. Tell your clients they need to follow your advice
51. Be specific
52. When a client or someone else is in jail
53. How to tell whether someone is having an affair and why you should care
54. How to get your client to tell you the truth
55. You may be the only sane person in your client's life
56. Anyone can become crazy
57. How to be involved but not overly involved
58. Make sure your client has the support of friends and family
59. Is the extended family part of the problem or part of the solution?
60. Does your client have a safety plan?
Section VII: Building a Case and Preparing for Trial
61. Make sure you are suing and serving the right party
62. Look at the jury instructions to prepare your case
63. Don't wait for someone to give you information
64. Prepare for depositions
65. Give mediation a try
66. How you know when you have a good settlement
67. Hope for the best but prepare for and expect the worst
68. Your pretrial settlement discussion with your client
Section VIII: Success in the Courtroom
69. Don't throw a fit in court
70. Treat the other attorney's client with respect
71. Find a nice judge you can talk to
72. Research your judge
73. Be extremely careful with ex parte communications
74. Do these things before you ask the judge for a signature
75. How to get your witness ready for court
76. You and your client should dress appropriately for court
77. How to present your case to the judge
78. Tips for picking a jury
79. Cross-examinationyou're no Perry Mason
80. Know when to sit down and shut up
81. Make your record for appeal
82. Appeals are a different animal
83. Getting more time in court
84. Have a sincere appreciation for court personnel
Section IX: The New Lawyer at Home
85. Don't cross-examine your spouse or significant other
86. Phone calls on nights, weekends, and holidays
87. Find a creative outlet and a physical outlet
88. Get your affairs in order
Section X: Your Legal Career in the Long Term
89. Keep up with your jurisdiction's latest ethics and appellate decisions
90. Don't let the door hit you
91. Why lawyers get burned out
92. You have the power to predict the future (eventually)
93. Stay humble and stay grateful
94. Do not underestimate the power of addiction
95. It's not the crimeit's the cover-up
96. Does it pass the smell test?
97. You have the ability to change people's perceptions about lawyers
98. Donate your legal skills
99. The importance of defending the independence of the judiciary
100. Care about politics
101. What will people say at your funeral?
Conclusion: Why I love practicing law
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thalacker clearly and concisely presents the world of the practicing lawyer in terms a layperson can understand. This handbook presents exactly the kind of attitudes and practices that I would want from my lawyer. She also argues persuasively for young lawyers to understand the value of community involvement and living a balanced life. I would recommend this book be handed out with the diplomas to all graduating law students.
Someone recommended this book to me because I work with attorneys. Besides begin spot on helpful in navigating through the legal world, it was an interesting read which I couldn't put down! I certainly wasn't expecting to be so entertained. It really gave insight into how difficult a lawyer's job really is. Highly recommend this book for anyone in the field, but particularly for new lawyers.