California Young Lawyers Association

Young Lawyer Survival Tips

By the CYLA Executive Committee

Often the best advice comes from your peers. We asked members of the CYLA Executive Committee to share their “survival tips.” Here is what they recommended.

1. Be prepared. This may sound obvious, but being the most prepared person in the room, with a solid grasp of the facts and the law relevant to your case, will help overcome any confidence issues you may have walking into that meeting or court hearing. Also, as a young lawyer you might run into the scenario where you’re in a room with a bunch of people who second guess your abilities based on your age or years of practice, so prove them wrong. Preparation goes a long way to build trust and confidence in your client relationships.

2. Figure out what work-life balance (or life-work balance) means to you. A colleague talks fondly about her early years of practice with a constant group of other young lawyers who met regularly for happy hour. I think what helps me stay balanced is escaping to the gym at lunch a few times a week. I don’t think there’s a “one size fits all” answer to the question, but you should take the time to find what helps keep you balanced.

3. Plan ahead. No matter how much of a procrastinator you were in law school, looking ahead and getting assignments done in advance will truly help lower your stress.

4. Carve out time for you. Strive to carve time out of your busy day to spend time with family, to go to the gym, walk your dogs, or decompress. This is where the life-work balance comes in. Work will always be there…and there will always be more to do. But without some daily down time, you will burn out far too early in your career.

5. Use samples. Look for samples from other attorneys or online as a first step to preparing any legal document. Be productive and efficient.

6. Track all of your projects and achievements. Keeping a table of things you have worked on as a new lawyer and the outcomes you have obtained for your clients is essential. It provides you with a visualization of whether the work you are doing aligns with your goals, and it can be used when approaching management about taking on new projects and asking for promotions. And if you decide to look for new opportunities, you can pull directly from your tracking sheet when developing a resume and cover letter.

7. Gain insight from the curmudgeon. Read “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law.”

8. Remember to breathe and take things one step at a time. As a young lawyer, there will be days where you feel completely overwhelmed, unqualified, and on the verge of a panic attack. My simple advice: first, take some deep breaths to calm down; second, remind yourself that you are not alone– thousands of other young lawyers have been in the same position; and third, once you’ve calmed down, start taking things one step at a time. As you begin checking things off your list one-by-one, you will start to feel better. I know this advice might sound basic, but these simple steps really help me when I get stressed out.

9. Know the rules. Review and understand the Rules of Professional Conduct—it’s not just a test you need to pass. Every single Rule of Professional Conduct is important and is a must-know. One of the rules that is significant to fully understand before beginning your practice is Rule 1.15 which concerns the management of funds, retainer and trust accounts, and your obligations to your client.

10. Stay dedicated to continuing education. You must be aware of important developments in your area of law. Some fields have yearly reviews regarding updates in the law. Your local bar associations, CYLA, and CLA all provide many educational programs throughout the year. Stay educated and informed!

11. Have a solid fee agreement that meets the requirements. Samples are provided by the State Bar.

12. Get malpractice insurance. If you do not have it, get it. However, make sure you advise all potential clients in writing if you decide to stay uninsured.

13. Find a mentor. Mentors can be people in your office or outside of your organization who can help provide professional and personal guidance. We’ve found that many experienced attorneys are eager to provide guidance and mentorship if you ask. If you cannot find someone within your organization, you can always ask your local bar association or CLA for information about mentorship-pairing programs.

14. Ask for more tips. Meet with five attorneys that you respect and ask the question, “What are things to avoid when practicing law?” Then, ask those five attorneys for five more attorneys that they respect and repeat the question with them. The exercise will introduce you to more attorneys and allow you to gain nuggets of wisdom. Further, this helps build your referrals. We hope you find these tips useful!

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