Charting Your Course in Law: A Young Lawyer’s Perspective
Being a lawyer is not easy. Being a young lawyer is certainly not easier.
The transition from trainee to associate can get very overwhelming, very quickly.
The young lawyer is plunged into a world where managing heightened expectations, coping with the intensity of practice, selecting the right team or firm, and making decisions that impact their career, are the new norms. All of this has to be done while trying to navigate their emotions and personal lives.
This journey is far from easy. At times, it can feel very lonely, where only peers within the industry, or perhaps only those within the same law firm, can truly empathise and understand our struggles.
Reflecting on my own experience, I now realise that it took me over a year to find my footing in the industry. Of course, that does not imply that I have now reached the pinnacle of stability and knowledge.
However, with time, I think I have gained a deeper understanding of the industry and my own aspirations within it, which have significantly helped me chart the course.
In this article, I wish to share three key insights I have learnt in my experience and hope they prove beneficial to fellow young lawyers embarking on their own journeys: (a) managing self-doubt; (b) finding the right fit; and (c) cultivating habits to make a career in law sustainable.
When starting out, it is not uncommon for us young lawyers to find ourselves poring over the profiles of other lawyers. Their biographies often speak of their stellar educational backgrounds and remarkable career achievements.
In the face of such accomplishments, it is easy for self-doubt to creep in, casting shadows of uncertainty about whether we would ever measure up to their expertise and accomplishments. However, amidst these doubts, it is crucial to remember that our industry tends to nurture exceptional, high-performing individuals, and we all are part of the process.
Therefore, when working amidst such bright individuals it is important to remember that Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, the greatness achieved by the distinguished lawyers we admire was not achieved overnight. Rather, it is a product of their consistent efforts and dedication to their craft.
Allowing self-doubt to take root and comparing oneself to others alone would be a thief of joy. Instead, a more helpful mindset to adopt would be to observe the habits and practices of those we admire and emulate their process. After all, a person’s identity is greatly shaped by their habits.
In my experience, I have found this mindset to be tremendously useful. Cultivating the habits and processes of colleagues and senior lawyers I admire has shaped my work and work ethic remarkably.
Progress, however, is notoriously non-linear. The day-to-day experience of a young associate may feel like an unending challenge, with more failures than triumphs. But over time, what feels like a jagged graph marked by peaks and troughs will reveal a steady incline of progress. We will get there; we all will.
In this process, I have also found having mentors and approachable senior colleagues in the industry to be invaluable. Whenever I have felt downcast, defeated, or lost, I have had the benefit of approaching the seniors and mentors I trust and admire. Their guidance has helped me navigate through my struggles and gain clarity and perspective.
In addition, I have also found that scheduling regular check-ins with such seniors and mentors to be very useful. During these meetings, I share what I have learned from my experiences, reflect on my progress, and ask for advice on how to plan my next steps in the coming months. I have found that these check-ins provide practical guidance and valuable insights, creating a supportive network that aids both my personal and professional growth.
Finding the Right Fit
As we gain experience, our understanding of legal practice evolves alongside our outlook, mindset, and priorities. Consequently, it is common for lawyers, especially young lawyers, to feel that they might perform better or prefer a different work environment or area of law.
Finding a suitable environment that aligns with our preferences is crucial. Without a stable and conducive environment, the journey may seem turbulent and directionless, and lacking a stable foundation.
While it is natural to consider changing paths during our career, selecting the right law firm or area of practice to move to can prove to be a challenging task.
It is a multi-factorial exercise and would often appear that there are little or no perfect choices that yield to all our preferences. It involves multiple factors and often seems like there are few, if any, perfect choices that satisfy all our preferences.
Surprisingly, my experience has taught me that the search for the right fit is more about understanding oneself than evaluating the next team, firm, or area of practice.
By introspecting and evaluating our experiences, we will achieve a better understanding of who we are, what we have to offer, and what kind of work environment would best suit our growth at this stage of our career.
When determining the ideal work environment for us, the multitude of factors to consider can lead to confusion and indecision. However, the process becomes simpler when we narrow down our choices to the three most crucial factors that we deem essential to our career.
For some of us, these pivotal factors might include (1) the firm’s size; (2) the team’s structure; and (3) the offered compensation. Conversely, for others, these critical elements might involve (1) the nature of handled cases; (2) the potential for a hybrid work setup; and (3) the firm’s diversity. Regardless of the specifics, these three chosen factors act as our guiding principles during the selection process and should remain non-negotiable.
Admittedly, the notion of having three essential factors is somewhat arbitrary; some may prefer more while others opt for fewer. Nevertheless, the key is to establish a defined set of parameters that aid us in navigating our selection process.
As regards selecting a different niche or area of practice, one approach is to think about the kind of problems you would want to solve regularly. Speaking to a lawyer who practises that area of law will provide insights into the practical experience involved. For instance, some areas of law are heavy on legal research, while others involve more coordination and collaboration with other stakeholders; some mandate speaking with clients very often, while others require more quiet critical thinking and desk-bound writing.
Ultimately, the goal is to align your career path with the kind of challenges you would like to take on, and in an environment that you truly resonate with. This journey of self-discovery shapes not just our career but our overall satisfaction and sense of purpose in the legal profession.
Cultivating Sustainable Work Practice
A career in law will undoubtedly often involve intense and long hours.
If we are not careful, the spark that lights our passion and ambition can soon fuel our frustrations and lead to burnout. Many among us have either experienced it firsthand, witnessed it in our colleagues, or experienced some degree of it during busy months.
While there are many ways to recover from burnout, I have found from my first-hand experience that there is always an inherent risk that we may reach a point of no return and be unable to fully recuperate.
Without realizing we may have pushed ourselves too much and stretched ourselves so thin that returning to normalcy becomes impossible. Therefore, cultivating a sustainable work practice that prevents burnout as far as possible is paramount for long-term success and personal well-being.
There are several ways to cultivate a sustainable work routine. Of them, a prime way is to allocate sufficient time for rest and recuperation every day. Working tirelessly with a dull axe is futile. Taking regular breaks to sharpen our minds, refocus, and resume with a cutting edge is what will yield better results.
Admittedly, this is easier said than done. When the tides of work sweep us in we find out only too quickly that yet another day has passed by. This often happens when we view rest and downtime as an afterthought after a long day of work.
Instead, we must fundamentally shift our outlook to view rest and personal time as an appointment with ourselves that is crucial for our maintenance, rejuvenation, and growth. It should be seen as a commitment we make to ourselves.
Rest does not solely mean sleeping; rather, it is about engaging in activities that rejuvenate us, taking various forms for different individuals. Some might find rest in activities like play or exercise, while others might recharge by connecting with friends and family over a meal.
Whatever the approach, devoutly scheduling time for ourselves to recharge is crucial. This practice is pivotal in establishing a more balanced and fulfilling journey as a lawyer.
I hope that the insights that I have gleaned from my experience will prove useful to other young lawyers similarly charting their courses. This professional journey is nothing short of a journey of personal discovery.
Through the good times and bad, successes and setbacks, enduring long days and even longer nights, we will eventually uncover our strengths, surpass our limitations, find our place in the industry, and discover ourselves. I wish you all the best of luck charting your course ahead!