Have you ever wondered what you could be doing better in order to get more recognition at work?
As a recruiter, I have watched many lawyers grow in their roles over the years and heard countless stories of what it is like working in law firms. These are 5 tips which I have picked up from experienced lawyers in the Asian market.
1. Be proactive and perceptive
We all know the importance of being proactive. What many young lawyers fail to realize is that this needs to be coupled with exercising common sense. Read the room, observe your partner’s body language and listen, before you speak. Be perceptive of the needs of your managers, team-mates and clients. If they are clearly busy with other files, do not burden them with matters that are not of priority. Sometimes, less can be more.
To illustrate, you should always aim to go the extra mile and beyond your job scope. Before you can even think of levelling up, prove and show that you’re competent and get a solid grasp of all the matters you’ve been tasked with.
When tasked with drafting a document, refrain from using a “cookie-cutter” approach. Have a think about whether you are giving meaning to that particular provision or if you’re simply including it because the precedent said so. Proactive associates would always endeavour to look up answers on their own before going to the partners. Remember, you’re hired to make their jobs easier. So demonstrate in any way possible, to alleviate their workload.
2. Meet your deadlines (and if you can’t, manage expectations)
Take every task and deadline seriously. Know that when you ask your boss for an extension, it shows that you have not managed your time well. Manage your schedule and ensure that you have sufficient time to go back to your seniors, partners or clients with questions and issues.
If you are a junior member of the team, it is extremely important that you pay strong attention to detail. Seniors rely on you to keep track of issues and proofreading. Always check for typos, grammatical and spelling mistakes, as most partners have a low tolerance for carelessness. Regular careless mistakes reflect a lack of attention to detail and will hurt your credibility, in the long run.
As you become more senior, you are increasingly expected to add value and not simply deliver competent work. You would need to spend time thinking issues through and not rush to get a piece of work out.
3. Ensure workplace visibility
Raising your profile at work is important. Introduce yourself at firm events, and do not be shy about networking. Grab that chance to share with your partners what you have been busy with, and what aspects of work you enjoy. Be available to help on internal projects, such as knowledge management, CSR initiatives and staff bonding, as these will demonstrate your commitment to the firm and allow you to develop a trusted network within the firm.
Always be polite and helpful to your colleagues, managers, support staff, cleaners and any possible person no matter how stressed out you are because these are the people who work with you, and you do not want to forge a bad relationship with anyone. Not to mention that it is the right thing to do!
In today’s climate, where we are all working from home, it can be difficult to increase visibility remotely. You could perhaps take the initiative to organise group meetings through video calls and occasionally text/call your colleagues for a chat. It is good to look for opportunities to share your honest, sincere appreciation for your managers and your team-mates - but take care to avoid flattery, which is insincere and seldom works!
4. Own up when you make a mistake
Be a man (or woman) about it. If you make a mistake, just admit it, make amends and apologise. Don’t deny, don’t grovel, and certainly don’t try and cover it up.
We get it. It’s tough being a lawyer at a law firm. Hours are long, work load can be heavy and expectations are high. Making mistakes is part and parcel of the learning process. Accept that mistakes do happen, and more importantly, know how to deal with your mistakes. How you handle any sticky situation, could make or break your career.
Once you identify a mistake on your part, be upfront about it. If possible, identify the possible implications and think of solutions Never avoid responsibility or put the blame on others. Most importantly, learn from your mistakes, and strive not to repeat them again.
5. Identify a mentor
You should recognise that no one starts out at a law firm knowing all the answers, and it is helpful to find a person who takes a sincere interest in your career, shares your outlook, perspectives and values, and will share honest feedback with you.
With that said, you can’t seek out a mentor like a task on your to-do list. This is a process similar to making friends, where you need time to know a person and go through some situations together. Most people have shared that they relied on their instincts and observations to identify these mentors. Once you have identified someone, ask them questions and see if the answers align with your values and provide you with additional insights. Be humble and be hungry, and most importantly be sincere. You would be surprised that many seniors will be happy to take the time to mentor you, as they too have been in your shoes.
Other than a mentor, you should also be in regular contact with your friends from other law firms as well as a trusted recruiter (such as myself!), so you are aware of industry trends, different ways of doing things outside your own firm and learn from external experiences.
For more insights on legal careers in the Asian landscape, feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.