Wish I Knew Then, What I Know Now: Distinguished Attorneys Tell All

Hindsight is 20/20. What advice do senior lawyers wish they had at the start of their careers? A panel of Temple University Beasley School of Law alumni, who have practiced law in local and state governments, as clerks in district and federal courts, as in-house general counsel, and in the big law setting, recently divulged just that. Dorothy Arimond, assistant vice president manager at Brandywine Group of Insurance and Reinsurance, Randall Hsia, partner at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, Bethany Nikitenko, partner at Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock Dodig LLP, and Emilia McKee Vassallo, associate at Ballard Spahr LLP, shared wisdom gained throughout their careers, including advice on topics from actual law practice to mentorship to career trajectory. Here are the key takeaways…

On Workload Management

Develop a system that works for you to understand and organize what is on your plate. Not only will this allow you to ensure nothing slips through the cracks, but when you are approached to take on a new assignment, you can immediately assess your current workload, what is priority, and respond honestly as to whether you can handle another item on your to-do list (it’s ok to say no to a new assignment if you can’t commit the time to do a quality job—just be prepared to justify that decision by explaining what else you are working on and associated deadlines).

On Handling Mistakes

Mistakes happen. To everyone. When it happens to you, own it and never try to cover it up. Report the mistake to those it affects right away, but also propose a solution to rectify it. Even if your solution isn’t ultimately pursued, it demonstrates your commitment to problem-solving and that you take the matter seriously.

On Mentorship

One common misconception is that mentors must be the partner or senior lawyer to whom a young lawyer reports. Not true; mentors can come from anywhere and from any generation. While there are lessons to be learned from the most senior partners, seek out perspective from a senior associate or junior partner, who may have been in your shoes more recently, and who you might feel more comfortable asking what may seem like basic questions. Diversify your mentor bench by establishing mentor relationships for different areas—one for trial preparation tactics, another for business development strategies.

On Client Service and Business Development

The best way to get more business from existing clients is to provide excellent client service. Be responsive, prepared, and professional in all client interactions, including email. Establish credibility by proposing options and outlining the pros and cons of each. If you don’t know something, say so and go find the answer. Treat business development as an equally important part of the job and understand that it’s never too early to cultivate your network. Build and maintain relationships from all facets of your professional and personal life. Stay in touch with undergrad and law school colleagues as you both grow into more senior roles and seek out new contacts through industry or community groups where you can meet people with common interests. You never know where your next matter will come from!

On Career Paths and Pivots

Finding an area of law that interests and fulfills you is key to long-term career satisfaction and success. If you’d like to explore a different practice area, be your own advocate and ask for opportunities. If a law firm is not amenable to a change in practice, remember that you own your career. Consider the incredible experience you can gain from a district or federal clerkship or, if you’re not ready to make a jump, get involved in pro bono service for a taste of a new practice to confirm it’s what you expected before making a move.

On Professional Development

Growing your skills and reputation should be considered just as important as your day job. Consider article writing, CLE presentations, and involvement in professional organizations part of your core responsibilities as a lawyer—they both build your confidence and brand and are business development activities. Similarly, view pro bono work as your civic duty. Not only can it help you expand your skills beyond your core practice area, but its fulfilling rewards can complement the daily grind of work. It’s also a great way to build your network!

About the Author

Lauren Sparks is marketing and business development manager at White and Williams LLP in Philadelphia.

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