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10 things I wish I’d known as a young lawyer

Lawyer Life, work-life balance

As the heavens opened in Cape Town, it was definitely a weekend for comfort food, fire side huddles and a bit of reflection of the week’s events.

Earlier in the week, a junior associate contacted me to seek my advice on career direction, my views on specialisation and how I had enjoyed my life as an international lawyer. She’d read the interview which I’d done with Katie Grey: https://www.principalsofpractice.com/blog/the-principals-profile-frieda-levycky and, given that she was at a stage of transition, reached out and sought advice from someone who had walked the path ahead of her.

I’m not sure if I was more impressed by the maturity and focus of the young associate or by her sheer courage to contact someone she didn’t know (someone many years her senior) and get the information she needed.

It got me thinking, what things do I wish I had known as a junior associate which would have helped smooth my journey up the corporate ladder? Here’s a list of the top 10:

 

  1. Be patient: The first couple of years as a junior are more important than you realise. Although you may be rolling your eyes at drafting another board resolution or proof-reading a witness statement for the fourth time, that repetition is building a muscle. It’s creating a solid legal foundation from which the rest of your legal competency and capability will hang. Work hard and put in the groundwork.
  2. Build and maintain your network: The legal world is as much about relationship building as it is about hard work. There is no longer a defined career path for lawyers. Gone are the days where attorneys stay in one firm for their entire careers. Instead, lawyers find themselves living and working abroad, switching to in-house counsel roles, becoming professional support lawyers – you name it. Some even leave law all together. Stay in touch with people. You never know what opportunities stem from nurtured relationships.
  3. Variety really is the spice of life: Get as much exposure to law as you can. Private Practice provides an excellent base for developing the skills as a lawyer, but practising as a lawyer in-house introduces a whole different skill set. You become much more commercially savvy, practical in your application of the law and versatile. You will dip your toe into all aspects of the law from loans to litigation, IP to labour issues.
  4. Work abroad: At least for part of your career, experience the life of a foreign lawyer. Not only will you experience new cultures and a different lifestyle, but you’ll understand how business is done in different countries. You’ll also grow your international exposure and network – never a bad thing for your CV.
  5. Be passionate: Long hours in the legal world are part and parcel of the territory (particularly for certain specialisations). If you hate your job, then it is going to take a much greater toll on your mental health than it will if you enjoy your work. Whether it be an industry or sector or a type of law, start looking for a niche that you are passionate about early on.
  6. Trust yourself: Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself. It’s the only way you’ll continue to grow.
  7. Don’t sacrifice your personal life for your professional life: You’re personal life is just as important as your work life. So live it! Climb mountains, support a charity, go for drinks with your friends, go on safari, treat yourself to a weekend away, leave the office early to run once a week. It’s all about maintaining a proper work-life balance. AND it’s ok to do so.
  8. Beware of office politics: You will meet a variety of characters along your legal journey (some not so pleasant as others). Find a coach or mentor who you trust who is not influenced by the situation. Having someone to open up to who has already travelled that journey will help you navigate your way through.
  9. Make sure you have friends outside of the office: I’m not saying don’t make friends with your colleagues, but make sure you nurture your non-work friendships. In times of struggle, you need unconflicted advice and support.
  10. Stay healthy both mentally and physically: Learn to read the signs when you need to take a break … check in with your stress levels, understand how you react when under stress and know how to bring those levels down. It’s key to keeping you healthy and productive.
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