The old adage is true: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. When making a lateral move, you want to put your best foot forward on day one and start off with a bang. (Did we mix enough metaphors there?) Transitioning to a new law firm is a great experience but also something that requires thought, skill, and planning. Here are some pointers on how to start your new job out right:
- Introduce yourself: While most large firms will have some sort of lateral integration process, orientation events can vary greatly in how extensive and helpful they are. Some firms will go to great lengths to make sure laterals meet all the important people, but as a new face in the firm, it is your responsibility to introduce yourself. Say hello to your office neighbors, paralegals, legal assistants, mailroom people, and basically everyone and anyone with whom you will be interacting. Don’t wait for people to come to you—meet everyone.
- Get to Know Those at the Top: If there are particular partners that you would like to work with, pop into their offices to introduce yourself within your first few weeks of work. Let them know that you would be excited to work on any of their matters and also offer to help in writing articles, client pitches, or any other type of business development efforts. Coming in with a concrete idea of business development activity is even better. Set Google alerts for pertinent news relating to these partners’ practices so that when something newsworthy breaks, you can offer to write a client alert or article on it. Take the opportunity as the new person to introduce yourself to all the partners in your group and those in leadership positions. In a few weeks, people will expect you to know who they are, and you don’t want to have to fake it.
- Don’t say no (yet): The bad news about starting at a new firm is that you have to rebuild your reputation. The good news is that people already like you, or you wouldn’t have gotten the job. In order to reaffirm people’s initial positive impressions of you, try not to turn down work for the first few months. Of course, if you are quickly getting overloaded, you should speak up so that you don’t become a doormat or turn in sub-par work. But expect to work a little harder than you normally would at first, as it will go a long way to engender the good will and trust that you had at your former firm.
- Do your best work: It’s obvious that you should turn in your best work product when you start at a new firm. However, this can be harder than expected when you are navigating new personalities and the unknown preferences and quirks of your superiors. When you get an assignment from a new partner, ask as many questions as you need to get clarity. Then go a step further and talk to other associates, paralegals, and/or assistants who work with the partner to find out how they likes things done. Maybe they hate Times New Roman, maybe they love the oxford comma, or maybe you always need to drop off a hard copy on their chair to ensure they read it. Gathering this intel before you complete an assignment assures that you’ll turn in the right kind of work product.
- Gossip with caution: Commiserating with work friends is so common it should have its own billing code. However, be careful gossiping at your new firm, since you don’t know who can and cannot keep a secret. For the first few months at work, operate under the assumption that anything you tell anyone will get escalated to the managing partner. Feel free to listen to and absorb all the firm gossip you can handle, but don’t contribute to it.
- Don’t live in the past: Think of your former law firm as an ex, and talk about it accordingly. Try to stay away from things like “well at my old firm, our copy center was open until 11:00 p.m.” or “at my old firm, we had free Diet Cokes in the fridge” or “at my old firm…” you get the point.
While it is important to integrate yourself in the best of times, during the age of Covid-19, remote onboarding, and no in-person interaction, you need to work extra hard to make sure you are on everyone’s radar. Try to schedule video meetings with as many folks as you can, rather than just introductory phone calls—seeing each other’s faces may forge a stronger connection than just hearing each other via phone calls. Try to make sure you have a guide—a plugged-in associate to whom who you can ask the smallest and largest questions. You can’t just pop down the hall, and a peer guide can really help you navigate the waters.
Remember that the process of making a successful lateral move can feel like you are on a roller coaster at times, so remember to keep a positive and open attitude and enjoy the ride.