Every spring, the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group (PDLG) hosts a daylong "pre-work" seminar for its Summer 1L Program participants-law students who will spend their 1L summers working with a PDLG member law firm or legal department. The seminar features a variety of panels and presentations designed to prepare the participants for the often-rigorous and potentially overwhelming summer-associate experiences awaiting them.
Kimberly Lippman, an associate at Duane Morris and co-author of this article, co-presented with partner Alan Klein, a longtime supporter of PDLG, at last year's pre-work seminar. Lippman was so impressed by all of the 1L Program participants who she met that she jumped at the opportunity to present at this year's seminar.
Eager to live up to PDLG's invitation, Lippman devoted some time to contemplating what professional insight she would offer the students. After a too-long day at work, she sat down and began outlining all of the advice she wished to impart. Somehow her outline slowly morphed into a poem.
This poem, presented below in bold type, was short, but seemed to capture the most common gaffes made by most attorneys at some point in their lives, even those who now call themselves partners. PDLG thought the advice would be useful to summer associates (and attorneys) everywhere.
- Go to lunch with partners.
If a partner or associate or company representative asks you to lunch, do not decline. This is your opportunity to learn more about each other and find some common ground. Relax. In most cases, the attorney or business person wants to talk about some topic of mutual interest, not whether you can recite the elements of a securities fraud claim. You may want to avoid any discussion about politics, though.
- Be kind to your assistant.
Be kind and respectful to everyone. All of your colleagues and staff deserve your patience and respect, no matter their rank or file. You are part of a team.
- Never leave important things for the last minute.
Make sure that you plan ahead. Do not wait until the last minute to finish an assignment. Legal analysis takes time. A memo with typos or grammatical errors will make a bad first impression, which can be hard to overcome.
- Don't gossip about colleagues.
The legal community is small and built on trust. This is no time for you to develop a reputation as a gossip. Can a law firm trust you with a client's confidential information, if you can't keep mum about your colleague's personal life?
- Or wear denim to work.
While standards of dress at your firm may be relaxed to the point that every day is "casual Friday," you still need to dress like the professional you are. Every day you'll be meeting new colleagues and clients, and you never know when you'll be asked to attend a meeting or deposition with clients or when the phone will ring for an invitation to lunch at the Union League or Capital Grille with a partner. Besides, the old adage still rings true: There's no second chance to make a good first impression. Unless there's a firmwide denim day for charity, resist the urge to wear that new pair of Diesels or Levi's.
- And if you say you'll do something then don't, well, you're a jerk.
Follow through on your commitments. Actions speak louder than words. If you need more time to complete an assignment, request it as soon as possible by contacting the partner or associate long before the deadline.
- Find a helpful mentor; ask advice when needed.
Over the summer, you will meet people who can help you navigate the workplace. Generally speaking, try to find a person you can trust, perhaps someone outside your chain of command who can offer you unvarnished advice with no strings attached. Lawyers like to talk, especially if you're seeking their input when you're in quandary. But try not to put every hard decision or question to a panel of experts; as you develop as a lawyer, you'll be expected to exercise your judgment and have opinions of your own. You're bound to make some errors along the way, but the most important thing is to learn to take calculated risks and learn from your mistakes.
- Think through projects carefully lest work need be repeated.
Before you leap into a project or assignment, think about what is being asked of you and take a logical course of action. Take some time to understand the context of what you are doing. Where does the project fit in? Setting aside the time to undertake the analysis can save you a lot of time and frustration in the end. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening my axe."
- Don't pretend to know things.
If you don't know the answer to a question, try not to bluff your way through a response. Rather, it's generally better to indicate that you need to check the law or the record and that you will get back to the person with the question. And make sure you follow up on a timely basis. This is no substitute, however, for adequate preparation; there will be times when you ought to have the answers when a question is asked of you. Even so, if you don't know what the answer is, it never pays to pretend that you do.
- Or let tasks go forgotten.
Keep a list of tasks and deadlines, even if you have a perfect memory. There might be some wiggle room for a late project, particularly if a request for additional time is made far in advance of a deadline, but no apology will make up for a task that is completely overlooked.
- Don't let your office get so dirty that people walk by, sniff the air, cringe and say: "I think something's gone rotten."
Your desk will be filled with papers and books, not to mention a cup or two of your favorite beverage, and you may have a bag of gym clothes lying around from your early-morning workout. Remember that partners and associates will stop by your office to introduce themselves, to assign or review work, or to just shoot the breeze. You'll want to make a good impression. A tidy desk will convey the impression of good organizational skills and help avoid chance of coffee spills, and a zipped gym bag tucked neatly in the corner will help keep locker room odors at bay.
- Keep in touch with classmates.
Let's face it, law school (especially the first year) was a challenging experience. You bonded with your classmates while studying cases, writing briefs and arguing in moot court, preparing for finals, and celebrating over beers. Your classmates will continue to be great resources for advice and support as you enter into life as a lawyer; e.g., how to deal with partners and clients, how to improve your capabilities, how to balance work and family.
- Build a robust network.
In addition to your classmates, get involved in your local legal and nonlegal community. Actively participating in the bar association, pro bono or diversity groups, your church/synagogue, local politics, or other activities will make you a better-rounded person, and ultimately a better lawyer. These connections also will help as you consider career changes in the future.
- Always have some classy stationery in your desk drawer.
You never know when you'll want to drop a quick thank-you note to a colleague or mentor or when you'll want to write a message of support or good wishes to a friend. With stationery at your fingertips, the task of writing will become second nature and you won't need to take time out of your day to find a greeting card. More importantly, your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
- Eat healthfully, get ample sleep, make sure to see the sun.
Take care of yourself. While the amount of hours you work will certainly matter, you will be measured by the quality of your output and productivity and your ability to think and play well with others. Eat well, get sleep and exercise. Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book "Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain" says: "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning. ... Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain." So, get out there.
David S. Blum
This article originally appeared in The Legal Intelligencer and is republished here with permission from law.com.