5 tips for graduate lawyers

5 tips for graduate lawyers

21 November 2021 By Selina Nikoloudakis
Selina Nikoloudakis

When starting a career in legal practice, there are a handful of things that all graduate lawyers should be aware of, writes Selina Nikoloudakis.

I have five tips for graduates as they embark upon a career in law:

Know what you don’t know

When you first start practising, the tasks you will be asked to complete will likely be new to you. You may ask yourself, why don’t I know this? My response – it is perfectly normal to ask yourself this question and for you to recognise that you don’t know how to tackle the assigned task. I remember when I first started practising – one of my first tasks was to draft a list of documents. I recall learning about privilege and waiver of privilege at law school, but I didn’t know how to actually draft the list so that I maintained privilege over my client’s file. I told my supervising partner that I understood the discovery process, but I didn’t know how to actually draft the list.

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To be honest, I was nervous about sharing this with them because, in my view, it highlighted my lack of practical experience, and I thought to myself – I bet they will hire someone with more experience now. In response, they told me that they completely understood that I was learning on the job, and they guided me through the task, even providing me with a precedent to refer to. The end result, I drafted the list, it was settled by the partner, I developed my legal skills, and I was certainly not replaced with a more experienced practitioner!

Take the time to read the files you are asked to work on

Not only will you develop your legal skills, but you will fine-tune your writing style. As a graduate solicitor, I assisted two senior partners, and I would read the files before embarking on the task I was assigned. Over time, I learned to adapt my writing style, depending on which partner I was working for. I recall that one day, one of the partners came in and said to me, “why am I settling my own work?” I responded with, “I drafted the letter”. He was most impressed that I had written the letter to the client, and I had adopted his style. I have now developed my own writing style, which perhaps, to a degree, resembles the style of the two partners I previously worked for.

Ask for help

Don’t be shy to ask for help or for clarification when you don’t understand what you have been asked to do. This, in my view, demonstrates your willingness to learn. Remember, we were all in your position once, and we don’t stop learning.

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Get to know your team

Stay for Friday night drinks, and introduce yourself to your colleagues and learn about them. If your firm has a buddy system, like our firm does, catch up with your buddy on a regular basis. If your firm doesn’t have a buddy system, perhaps raise this as something the firm can implement – this will demonstrate your initiative and will benefit both you and the firm.

Don’t compare yourself to others

Many of the students and graduates I mentor talk to me about what their colleagues are up to and how they feel their colleagues are more successful than them. In my view, focusing on your surroundings is likely to be a distraction and will not assist you in achieving your career goals. You should, at all times, focus on yourself and your career path. A career in the law is not a competition. I am a strong believer that hard work, perseverance and determination are fundamental to the pursuit of your career goals.

With a little determination and perseverance, you can achieve your goals! Best of luck!

Selina Nikoloudakis is a partner at Andersons Solicitors and an accredited family law specialist. Since 2015, Selina has mentored law students and graduate solicitors. She guest lectures at the University of South Australia and is a lecturer at the College of Law in the Master of Laws Postgraduate program. She is a finalist in the 2021 Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards’ mentor of the year category.

5 tips for graduate lawyers
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