June 15, 2022 – It is hard to believe that 12 years have passed since I was sworn in as a new attorney, and as I look back in writing this article, I am truly grateful for the great mentors, colleagues, and friends that I have met along the way. You only get one chance at being a new lawyer, and hopefully the lessons I learned will help you along your own journey.
Here are my five tips for new lawyers:
Do Not Be Afraid to Ask Questions
As you transition from the competitive environment of law school, you enter a new environment where you must start from the beginning. No one expects you to know everything, but they do expect you to ask questions when you need help.
Christopher C. Shattuck, Univ. of La Verne College of Law 2009, M.B.A. U.W.-Oshkosh 2015, is manager of
Practice411™, the State Bar’s law practice assistance program. If you have questions about the business aspects of your practice, call (800) 957-4670.
Often, new associates are picked to work on difficult legal research projects or cases where other partners have no experience. Newly admitted attorneys who start their own law firms, and thus do not have colleagues or senior attorneys in their firm to talk with, may feel like everything is difficult since they do not know where to turn for help.
Fortunately, lawyers in firms of all sizes, from solos to the largest firms in Wisconsin, can utilize the State Bar of Wisconsin’s
Lawyer-to-Lawyer Directory to ask substantive law questions from other experienced attorneys outside of their own firms. Lawyers listed in the directory agree to share their knowledge in particular areas of law with other lawyers through free, brief consultations (generally for 10 minutes) by email or phone. There are over 400 attorneys listed in the directory, who cover a wide variety of topic areas, and they are happy to assist you.
Maximize Your Networking
When I started practicing, the economy was emerging from the Great Recession. There were far more attorneys looking for jobs than what was available. Networking with other attorneys in firms provided an excellent opportunity to get a foot in the door at that firm, if a position opened, or to be informed of positions that opened in the area. A hiring manager is more likely to review and interview an attorney when they receive a positive referral from another attorney.
Networking also plays a critical role in generating new business, as many attorneys enjoy consistent referrals from their
centers of influence,
other attorneys and clients, and personal connections. Basically, everyone you meet in your personal and professional life has the potential to serve as a referral source for you in the future. Remember to always be kind to those people you are interacting with, especially in a professional setting.
Boost Your Experience by Volunteering
Another great way to network, with the added benefit of giving back time to your community and gaining valuable experience, is volunteering to serve in leadership positions with
Wisconsin affinity groups, specialty bar and legal associations,
local bar associations, and the
State Bar of Wisconsin. Leadership positions allow you to serve other attorneys by providing programming, continuing legal education, and assistance on important projects.
If your volunteer time is limited, consider answering questions when you do have the time on
Wisconsin Free Legal Answers. The virtual legal advice clinic allows attorneys to choose and answer civil legal questions by members of the public. Many questions can be answered in a short period of time, and there are no long-term volunteer commitment requirements.
Attend to Your Own Wellness
report from the Task Force on Wisconsin Lawyer Well-Being highlights common stressors in the legal profession:
In the absence of proper and ongoing support, the occupational hazards of the legal profession can lead to dissatisfaction, feelings of alienation and distress, and diminished quality of life. Even lawyers whose mental or physical challenges do not rise to the level of impairment, or who have never been negatively affected by stress or anxiety, can be impacted by the negative climate of the legal profession, which includes the realities of deadlines and billable hour requirements.
It is important that lawyers, especially new lawyers, create positive work-life balanced schedules,
to feel comfortable opening up to other people about challenges. Also, keep in mind the
Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance Program. If you ever need any help or just someone to talk with, contact the WisLAP free, confidential hotline at (800) 543-2625.
Explore Resources for Legal Research
advice last year provided a roadmap for conducting legal research by searching Google,
Wisconsin Statutes and corresponding annotations,
Wisconsin Jury Instructions,
local rules for each circuit court, and
Fastcase (complimentary access to a legal research tool for members of the State Bar of Wisconsin).
Do not be frustrated if you can’t find the answer you are searching for right away. The longer you spend researching, the better you become at finding where the information is located and using search terms or conditions for limiting your searches. Also, as your experience continues to grow as an attorney, you will become familiar with subject areas, and need less time searching the statutes for every question that arises.
Pay attention also to State Bar publications like
Wisconsin Lawyer™ magazine and the e-newsletter
InsideTrack©. You’ll find information on various legal topics – and check out the
law librarians’ column in InsideTrack for a great many tips on conducting legal research.
Conclusion and a Bonus Tip
Every new adventure creates new opportunities. The Wisconsin legal profession is filled with attorneys who want to help you thrive in your practice. Participating in networking and volunteer activities can help you get to know and serve your community better. Feel free to reach out to
Practice411 for any other advice or practice management questions you have.
My final bonus tip:
Get to know your State Bar of Wisconsin. Take a few minutes exploring the website. There are many ways the State Bar can help you (we’ve mentioned a few already).
Are You Looking for a Mentor?
Consider applying for the
Ready.Set.Practice, Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program:
The Ready. Set. Practice. Mentoring Program is a voluntary program that matches new lawyers with experienced mentors in order to assist with law practice management, effective client representation, and career development. If you are a new lawyer looking for guidance from the study of law to the practice of law, this program is for you! Likewise, if you are an experienced lawyer interested in sharing your knowledge with new lawyers, this program is for you!