Apply Lessons Learned During Your First Summer Jobs To Your Legal Career

August 1, 2018

One of the defining moments for many adolescents is their first summer job. A first job often represented a sense of freedom and increased independence. No matter what your first job was, you certainly learned lessons about how to be a valuable member of a workplace. During summers in Ithaca, New York, I worked at a bakery, a clothing store at the mall, an antiques store, and later, I was a counselor at a sleep-away camp in the Poconos. Each of these jobs taught me new skills, pushed me outside my comfort zone, and developed my career values. As this summer ends, revisit the lessons you learned during your first jobs and use them to sustain and reinvigorate your legal career. The following are some of the key lessons I learned during my summer jobs.

Finding your first job may have been a challenge and likely taught you how important follow-up and follow through are in the workplace. My first summer home from college, it seemed like I was running out of places to apply to for a job and not having any luck. Many of the restaurants were not interested unless you had worked in a restaurant before and I had only worked retail during high school. I eventually made a list of each place I had applied and then followed up with phone calls to each business asking the manager the status of my application. Eventually I was hired by one of the first places I had applied. The same thing may have been true when searching for your first job out of law school or your next position. Try not to be frustrated with the hard work that often accompanies finding or changing jobs. A positive attitude while job hunting will be noticed. Additionally, whether you want to develop your career at your firm or organization or make a career transition, be persistent in working toward your goals. Each action you take will show you are willing to put in the work to be a success and will help you in the long term. Keeping up with your network by having coffee with a former colleague or a mentor once a month may also be beneficial to you and help you meet your long-term goals.

Acknowledge and Learn From Your Mistakes
One summer, I worked at a bakery in a small square in town that served breakfast pastries and coffee and specialized in wedding and other special occasion cakes. The days went quickly serving customers and cleaning and preparing for the early opening time the next day. One afternoon, I broke one of the two commercial coffee pots as I washed it out. The owner was not at the shop when that happened and I dreaded telling her the next morning because I was concerned I would be fired. However, the owner told me she appreciated my honesty and understood mistakes happen. As attorneys, the stakes for mistakes are higher than broken coffee pots, but it seems that partners, judges, and clients respect practitioners more who are able to concede issues that are not crucial to the matter and acknowledge when they have been incorrect or need to change a position. On the other hand, attorneys risk losing credibility when they do not concede anything and persist in a position that has been proved legally incorrect. Indeed, many jurisdictions have implemented local rules that encourage practitioners to work together to resolve issues without court involvement, for example, requiring counsel to confer before filing a motion to dismiss. As a young attorney, you can build your credibility by conceding points that are not necessary to advocate for your client’s best interests, but remain steadfast in any issue that is crucial to your case.

Be Reliable
During my time at a clothing store at the mall, we were assigned shifts by the store manager. If you did not show up on time, others may have been asked to stay past their scheduled time-off. Employees who consistently showed up on time were given more hours in future schedules because the manager knew he or she was reliable. Being reliable is also crucial for attorneys. Meeting the expectations of clients and co-workers is vital to the sustainability of your career. Indeed, attorneys are under an ethical obligation to communicate with clients and keep them informed about their representation. Attorneys who set expectations about what they are going to do and when and then meet or exceed these goals are more likely to have satisfied clients and a good reputation.

Do Something Outside Your Comfort Zone
The summer between college and law school, I worked as a counselor at a camp deep in the Poconos where I had agreed to teach photography and lifeguard at the large camp pool. I remember pulling up to the camp for counselor training with my trunk packed with my personal items for the next two months and feeling apprehensive as I walked up the long driveway because I had never even seen the camp and did not know any of the other counselors. That summer turned out to be one of the best summers I had. As an attorney, it can be personally and professionally rewarding to push yourself to try new things. For example, volunteer to help with a pro bono program, say yes when a partner from a different practice group asks you to help with a matter, and agree to join a fundraising committee for a nonprofit organization you support. Outside of work, trying new restaurants, sports and visiting new places can bring renewed energy and focus to your career.

There are many things that we as attorneys do not have control over. However, no one has control over our personal credibility except for us. Some of the most basic lessons learned from first summer jobs are a good reminder of core principles that should still apply during our legal careers.

Reprinted with permission from the August 01, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved.

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