Top Tips for Success as a First Year

Published: Nov 28, 2022

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Starting as a first year at a law firm can be overwhelming. You are meeting new people, encountering new professional demands, and learning new substantive areas of law. But it can also be exciting! Each associate’s experience will be different, but here are three pieces of general advice that I would share with new associates that helped me succeed in my first year.

Ask Questions!

When you get a new assignment, it is always okay (and expected!) that you might have questions. In fact, your colleagues will appreciate that you are thinking critically about the issue presented and are interested in learning more. The benefits of asking questions are two-fold. First, getting clarification on the requirements of a project helps ensure you deliver the best work product possible.  Second, learning about the context of your assignments will only further your substantive legal knowledge and your professional growth.

While it is expected that you will have questions, your colleagues will appreciate the thoughtfulness of your questions. Someone once told me that no question is a dumb question. And that is true! There are questions, however, that you could tackle yourself with just a touch of effort. My advice is to think twice about a question before you ask it. Could you look this up yourself with little effort? Is the answer somewhere obvious in the information you have already been given?  If you consider those questions briefly and still need clarification, then your question is likely an appropriate, thoughtful one to ask, and it will be appreciated by your colleagues and benefit you in the near and long term.

Be Open to all Opportunities

Say you get an email from a partner with an assignment that is in a practice area that you have never worked in, and that you don’t have an interest in working in. Can you make excuses, and refuse the project? Even if it’s something that you don’t have experience in, and that you don’t see yourself being interested in, you should make every effort to take on that project if your capacity allows. It is important to be a team player, and your colleagues will recognize this and know that they can count on you in the future. In time, your eagerness to take on work will pay off, and you will be rewarded with “good” projects. For the record, though, every project is a valuable learning opportunity. Even if the assignment is in an area of law that you are not sure you want to pursue, you will always learn something, and will take the experience of learning with you moving forward. And who knows. You might find out that you are interested in that area of law after all. You will never know if you don’t try.

Maintain Healthy Habits Outside of Work

It is no secret that being a lawyer can be demanding–both mentally and physically–and that sometimes prioritizing healthy habits outside of work can be difficult. But it is so important to do so.  We can only do our best work in the office if we are our best selves outside of the office. To the extent possible, you should maintain healthy routines, both physical and mental. This means getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, engaging with your loved ones, and building time to pursue things that are enjoyable and relaxing into your schedule. While there are inevitably going to be busy periods in your professional life when you won’t be able to maintain these habits, to the extent possible it is important to make sure that you are taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. Your well-being outside of the office will be reflected in the work that you do and in your overall professional development.

At the end of the day, the key to succeeding as a first-year associate is doing good work, and all of these tips will help you achieve that goal. They should also help you get the most out of your first year at your firm, which can and should be an experience filled with lots of learning and personal and professional growth. Best of luck!