Many new lawyers don’t realize soon enough that their reputation is one of their most important assets. What can a new lawyer do to embellish that reputation?
First, pay attention to deadlines.
We all learned in law school about statutes of limitation. Don’t be that lawyer who has to explain to a client that their suit is barred because you “almost” had the complaint ready when the statute of limitations ran. There were a few times in my career where young lawyers kept missing deadlines. I presumed these lawyers were professional, but they proved me wrong. Their inability to meet deadlines forced me to stop working with them, no matter how talented these lawyers were.
One tip is to have a very clear conversation with the assigning attorney about when they want to see a draft and make sure you meet that timetable. I have never seen partners more livid then when put under severe time pressure by an associate’s late work. Always advise the assigning attorney immediately of any special circumstances arise, or if there are reasons why you cannot meet the agreed upon deadline.
Second, always carefully proofread your drafts. Time and again, I encounter young lawyers who submit drafts which include misspellings or bad grammar. Clients, senior lawyers and judges expect all written work to be perfect. Based on that expectation, when mistakes appear, the assumption will be that the attorney does not pay enough attention to detail. You don’t want the judge wondering if all the citations are accurate. And you want to avoid senior lawyers and clients losing confidence in your work product.
A word to the wise: do not trust the word-processing program to eliminate all mistakes. Everyone understands that word-processing does not pick up everything. As painful as it is, you have to get things right. Your reputation is critical and you don’t want to be considered a sloppy lawyer.
Third, double check the validity of any authority you put into your documents. It may be tedious to shepardize cases, but you don’t want to cite a case that has been reversed or questioned. You will lose all credibility if you don’t cite good cases.
To learn more about ways to avoid common mistakes, please check out my Legal Ally Rainmaker program.