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Get off on the right foot

Advice to new attorneys

BridgeTower Media Newswires//October 30, 2012

Get off on the right foot

Advice to new attorneys

BridgeTower Media Newswires//October 30, 2012

Editor’s Note: Barbara Rabinovitz, a former reporter at Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, a sister paper of Virginia Lawyers Weekly, interviewed veteran prosecutor Christina E. Miller of Boston, seeking her advice to newly admitted bar passers. Miller’s comments appear below.

Informing colleagues about the areas of law in which one is interested helps a new lawyer land interesting assignments.

Let as many people know inside and even outside your office what specifically you’re interested in, if there’s a specific general area of law or a particular area of law. … Then you can really have people reach out to you where they may not otherwise and maybe think of you when they are assigning certain cases. This [advice] may also apply to a type of work.

Maybe someone who’s in a trial-type position still wants to work on their writing. If they tell people that, then maybe they’ll get that [writing] assignment. Don’t be shy.

A new lawyer seeking a mentor is well advised to “do the legwork first.”

I think the key to that [mentorship] is to have done the background work. Do the legwork first so that you know as much as you can know about a subject. If you come in prepared, you’re showing you’re knowledgeable and can do the work.

The other great way to issue-solve is to present it more as a question of strategy. Again, you’ve done the work [beforehand], and then you can say, “I have this issue I could argue; there are three ways I could argue it. What is my best strategy?” Then you’re showing yourself as a problem-solver, and you’re also showing yourself as seeking input on strategy. And strategy is important. I think it’s also important to have mentors outside your workplace, and the key to that is really the bar association. Or you can develop relationships with judges and legislators, depending on your field.

So if I need advice, I may not want to seek it in my office. There’s that opportunity there.

Winning the confidence of clients and others one works with as a new lawyer requires explaining “the process.”

As [a prosecutor], one is dealing with victims or witnesses or with your colleagues, either as fellow [prosecutors] or opposing counsel. It’s really important to explain the process, to have them understand their role in the process. … Give [clients] a general sense of your expectations, being clear you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but telling them: “This is how things usually go, and this is what can happen at the next step.” I don’t think it serves anyone to say, “Let me take care of everything; you don’t have to worry,” and then not explain anything that’s going on.

Networking helps a new lawyer achieve a balance between total immersion in the job and involvement in the wider community beyond.

Avoid isolation. One, you can end up getting really burned out on your job. Two, as much as your good work speaks for itself, it also needs to speak in other venues. [Networking] provides you with this sort of balance. I hear a lot from my interns and new lawyers that balance is more important than high salaries.

Equally essential for a new lawyer is a balance between his or her professional work and personal life.

No person is an island, and there will be times that you need to reach out to the rest of your team. And that’s why it’s important to develop that team. … Those [personal] relationships feed you — they feed your soul, for lack of a better word. So you have to give that part of your time because, if you don’t make time for it at some point, it might not be there. I do see some fantastic lawyers burn out in the first two or three years [of their careers] because they just can’t stand it anymore, because they think that’s the way it has to be. And it doesn’t have to be that way.

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