Navigating The First Few Weeks at Your Job in a Top-tier Law Firm

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Congratulations! You have just scored a job with a top-tier law firm. Chances are that you beat so many other great candidates to land the job. Your educational qualifications and personality have won you an opportunity to join a formidable team of lawyers. You may have updated your LinkedIn profile and you have most likely received felicitations from your proud relations and friends.

Getting recruited to work in a top-tier law firm is half the battle. Like most blue-chip companies, the law firm is likely to place you on a six-month probation before confirming your employment. In this six-month period, you will be required to show that the firm’s decision to recruit you was right. Make no mistake, the probation is not perfunctory. It is extremely important and a new Associate whose performance fails to meet the firm’s standard will be let go at the end of the probation.

It is also noteworthy that some Partners and Senior Associates could make up their mind about you the first time they work with you, so you need to make your first impression count.

Here are some tips that will aid you in navigating your first days in a top-tier law firm to ensure that you thrive in your new job.

  1. Understand the office culture

Office culture means the values prevalent in an office. Some organizations indicate their culture in their office manual while others let their office culture evolve organically. Some law firms prize client satisfaction above all else; this will often mean that you may be required to work and deliver value to the client at all times, sometimes even when you are ill. Other firms value innovation, respect, expertise or teamwork.

Identifying and understanding your firm’s most important value is very important as it would determine whether you flourish at your job. Find out the most important characteristic a lawyer with the firm is required to possess and build it. This will help you grow in the firm and get promoted faster as law firms tend to recognize and promote employees who embody their culture and values. You can identify your firm’s values through its website or office manual. You can also observe the Partners and Senior Associates to determine the office culture.

  1. Be proactive

In your first days at your new job, you may not have a lot to do. It is tempting to thank your lucky stars and spend time browsing on social media. Do not take this approach. Instead, approach your Supervisory Associate/Partner and ask for work or ask general questions about the firm and your duties. Be cautious not take on too much at a time though because if you fail to meet deadlines you will create an impression that you are tardy or worse, unreliable.

  1. Be a team player

We all have the phrase ‘team player’ in our CVs. Upon recruitment to work in a top-tier law firm, you will be repeatedly required to demonstrate that you are indeed a team player. First, top law firms are structured in teams led by Senior Associates or Partners and the team lead usually assign tasks to team members. You may be assigned simple tasks such as research, drafting simple correspondence or court processes. Accept your task and do it well. Do not attempt to get the ‘more glamorous’ tasks. You will also find that your seniors may take credit for some of your work. Just remember that in your early days, the goal should always be to make the TEAM look good, not yourself. If the team wins, you win.

Another aspect of being a team player is getting along with others. Top law firms in Nigeria often recruit several lawyers who represent a confluence of diversity. You will be expected to work with lawyers from different backgrounds, schools, ethnicities. Make an effort to get along with everyone. Nobody likes to work with a grouch or troublemaker. Stay away from office politics or discussions that may lead to conflict. Politics and religion are often breeding grounds for clashes. Avoid such arguments if you can. You will be surrounded by a lot of talent and excellence, it is therefore in your best interest to be friendly to everyone so that you can learn from them.

  1. Be teachable

Your recruitment by one of the best law firms already demonstrates that you possess remarkable talent and personality but you must realise that your knowledge is mostly theoretical. Unless you have obtained years of experience from a comparable law firm, you do not have much to offer by way of practical skills. Your drafting, research and problem-solving skills will require some time to evolve.

As a result, you may receive negative feedback on a couple of tasks you perform. Your seniors may even be blunt when giving you criticism via emails or in person.   Do not be defensive or insolent towards them. Remember that they had to spend time revising the work you took a lot of time to prepare. Instead, ask them to clarify what you can do better in the future. Taking this approach shows that you are open to learning and growing. Building the skill of being teachable will also aid you throughout your career because law practice is a continuous learning process.

  1. Find a practice niche and stick with it

Top law firms have a dazzling array of possible practice groups. You will find practice areas such as Transportation, Mergers & Acquisitions, Finance, Family Law, Communications, IP, Taxation, Capital Markets and other key areas of law. Like a child in a candy store, you may be tempted to get involved in as many practice areas as possible.

However, you need to be careful. Globalization is requiring the world to move towards specialization. There is a reason for the saying that “a jack of all trades is a master of none”. Pick not more than three or four practice areas that resonate with you and build skills in those areas of law. Top law firms value mastery and expertise.

In addition, a key disadvantage of participating in too many teams is that you may miss a lot of deadlines. Clients’ instructions are usually time-bound and if you have too many balls to juggle, you may drop one. Interestingly, the fact that you are juggling a lot of things is never an acceptable excuse for doing mediocre work.

  1. Build attention to detail

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make an effort to build your attention to small details. This is key because a typographical error can ruin a carefully crafted document. In the same way, failure to note a small detail could make an entire case crumble. Read documents at least three times before turning them in. You could also pass the document to a more senior colleague to vet before sending it to your supervisor.

You are part of a team and you must help your team do well. Preparing shoddy documents will make your colleagues avoid working with you and might lead the firm to let you go. The supervisors I work with always underscore the importance of doing good work so as not to pass the work to them.  This I believe, is the most important tip for thriving at your new job.

 

Christabel Kelechi Ndeokwelu is an Associate in the Dispute Resolution, Corporate/Commercial and Labour & Employment Practice Groups at a top-tier Nigerian law firm. Christabel has a knack for litigation and arbitration. As a skilled advocate, she represents clients in courts across Nigeria on disputes relating to diverse areas of law.
She also advises clients on regulatory compliance, aviation, labour and employment and other areas of law. Christabel is skilled at showing multinational companies and international organizations the ropes in Nigerian law. Follow Christabel on LinkedIn here.

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