Many of you may look back at your younger selves and wish you had been taught the habits you now practise. Now is the time to instil those habits in your junior lawyers.
Here are five habits of effective lawyers I wish I had been taught as a junior.
Pick up the phone
Given the strong emphasis on written skills at law school, new lawyers would be forgiven for assuming that everything should be conducted in writing. But an astute lawyer will tell you that picking up the phone can be far more productive than jumping head-first into an endless exchange of letters. This is particularly the case in litigation where parties can easily get bogged-down in protracted and expensive correspondence, rather than engaging in frank and open conversation.
Don’t pretend to know the answer
It is a common misconception among new lawyers that clients expect answers on the spot. This is a dangerous mindset which can lead to inaccurate advice and exposure to risk. If there is any doubt, a practitioner should never feel compelled to provide an immediate answer. Take the question on notice, do your due diligence, and come back with an informed response. There’s no shame in saying “I’ll need to check on that”.
Build professional relationships early
When new lawyers start out in a firm, they commonly rely on senior practitioners to feed them work. But as most experienced lawyers know, a long-term career in private practice is not often built on delegated work. To move past a certain point in the hierarchy, a lawyer needs to demonstrate his or her ability to attract clients (and therefore revenue) to the firm. Even as a new lawyer, it is never too early to start building professional connections that may develop into future client relationships. This means taking opportunities to attend networking forums and industry events right from the outset. It also means staying in touch with former university colleagues who will go on to become potential clients in various organisations.
Communicate regularly with your client
Surprisingly, poor communication remains a major cause of complaints against practitioners. As lawyers, we can become so focused on achieving an outcome that we often neglect to keep our clients informed along the way. Whether it’s a change in strategy or a revised cost estimate, there is no excuse for keeping a client in the dark. The sooner lawyers establish good communication habits, the better. A valuable routine to impress on junior lawyers is the implementation of a regular ‘reporting checkpoint’ tailored to the client’s needs. This has the added benefit of ensuring that a matter never slips through the cracks and receives regular review and reflection.
Draw on tools other than the law
In a profession obsessed with legislation and case law, it can be easy to put the law on a pedestal and view it as the sole source of solving a problem. But the best solutions aren’t always found in the law. I will never forget being given my first matter as a new lawyer. I worked diligently and ultimately delivered an elaborate legal solution. Unfortunately, it turned out my strategy was also going to cost our client several times the value of the outcome. It was legally sound, but commercially disastrous. A cost-effective solution ultimately came from thinking outside the box and identifying a commercial approach which barely drew on the law. The lesson? A good lawyer looks beyond the law for practical answers.
What lessons have you learnt which you wish you had known as a junior?
Alex Giannopoulos (pictured above) is a Graduate Placement & Careers Advisor at Leo Cussen Centre for Law
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