The first few years in a new legal career are stressful and can lead to some common mistakes. Some are unavoidable at the start, but others can be avoided.
A legal career takes dedication and hard work. Simple mistakes and bad habits may prevent you from developing a good reputation among other legal professionals and clients. Here are the nine most common mistakes and how to avoid them.
1. Missing deadlines
A legal career is filled with deadlines. Clients, courts, and your bosses cannot be left in the lurch. Also, don’t trust a deadline supplied to you by someone else unless you have double-checked it.
2. Not owning your mistakes
Inevitably, everyone can make a mistake, but a good lawyer knows how to handle such a situation. The faster an error is resolved, the better. If you are too embarrassed or scared to deal with or admit to a mistake, the more potentially damaging it can be to your career.
Be honest with clients and colleagues and try and fix the mistake. This will show your ability to solve problems and your competence. If you are not sure how to correct your error, allow your colleagues or partners to offer advice or help you.
3. Forgetting about confidentiality
As an attorney, you must always remember your ethical duty of confidentiality, no matter how incredible or juicy some of the details that emerge in a case may be. Failure to observe this duty can place your firm and legal career in jeopardy.
4. Not listening to advice
Advice or criticism are both valuable when they come from colleagues with experience. Even though you may feel discouraged or that the constructive criticism was a bit harsh. Remember, it is passed on to help you. If you fail to accept it, it shows your unwillingness to improve.
5. Failing to develop business skills
Business development is essential for any lawyer who wants to become a partner in a legal firm. Partners can bring in clients to their law firms because of the skills they develop over time. Start working on these skills from the very beginning of your law career. They include networking, healthy relationships with alumni, always being available, and following up. Your client and referral base takes years to build, so start working on it right away.
6. Not keeping up to date with the law
Stay ahead of the game by reading relevant law news. It is also imperative to share any new case laws and updates with colleagues.
When you are working on any cases, always read the legislation concerning it. Even if you use the same regulation daily, there may be a sudden update, or you may distinguish new interpretations from the wording.
7. Forgetting to track your time
Your billable hours are important as a legal professional. If you don’t record them immediately, you won’t accurately remember how long you worked on a case. Don’t forget yourself, no matter how busy you are. Otherwise, you might end up cheating yourself or overcharging your client.
If you have a billable hour requirement tied to your future compensation, don’t be tempted to divide them into the 12 months of the year. This is because some months, especially the last two of the year, are slower because of the holidays. Work hard and consistently through the year to avoid having to scramble to make hours up just before your deadline.
8. Not prioritizing
Professional success requires that you don’t procrastinate. Prioritize your work, or you may find that you are continually working under stressful conditions and struggling to meet deadlines.
Don’t just rely on your reminders and firm staff to keep you up to date. Prioritize your work and keep track of all your cases, including actions and procedures you must take to prepare for representation.
9. Inappropriate behavior and gossiping
Boundaries are essential in law, and as a lawyer, you need to know how to maintain them. Avoid drinking too much at functions so you don’t end up being unprofessional. Avoid comments and touching that may be perceived as harassment and use social media with care. Also, set your social media privacy settings on high, and avoid content that can negate your professionalism.
Be wary of gossip because the legal world is small, and your career may force you to deal with people professionally at a later date, either as colleagues or clients.
In law, it is always a good idea to learn from those who are older than you. Cultivate relationships with experienced lawyers and look for a mentor. Learn about being part of a team, and as you work together and observe these people, you will learn how best to approach legal matters.
Even if you make a few mistakes, don’t forget the sooner you learn from them, the better your law career.