A recent North Carolina Advocates for Justice publication,Trial Briefs, printed three essays that share the personal experiences, perspectives and obstacles faced by three attorneys beginning their careers in North Carolina. We hope these can be instructive as we continue to discuss changes to the legal profession in the coming months and years.
We live in a world with dwindling attention spans and an ever increasing demand on our time. As young lawyers, we have our feet in two generations; most of us can remember a time when we did not have a personal computer in our homes, but at the same time being separated from our smart phones for more than five minutes is panic inducing. We have access to massive amounts of technology and the ability to make it work for us. Yet, this open access to technology that has improved our lives in so many ways has brought with it new pressures. Because there are apps that map our runs, balance our books, collect news stories to fit our specific tastes, determine whether we are drinking enough water, and in- form us when we have friends in the area, we are expected to do it all. And we all know, whether we admit it or not, there is simply not enough time in the day to do everything.
When balancing all of the responsibilities of being a young lawyer, though—whether it be the stress and deadlines of our challenging profession, the presumed need to be constantly available and connected, or just the everyday activities of cooking dinner, going to dance recitals, and walking the dog—a little bit of introspection is in order. What can we do now to invest in small ways in our future selves and careers? What small additions to our already overflowing plates would be worth our precious, and obviously limited, time and attention?
Very few of us can say that we are excellent writers. Writing is something that we do every day, so it becomes mundane. We use templates, and often just rattle something off under a time constraint, so we are rarely thinking about ways to im- prove the words that we are putting on the page. Our writing skills, though, strongly reflect our skills as lawyers, and, as we grow as lawyers, our writing skills deserve some time and attention, too. Learning about the new writing techniques, refreshing ourselves on grammar and sentence structure, and brushing up on our citation form can go a long way in making us more mindful about our writing and how we are presenting our ideas and ourselves to the courts and community.
We all have our pop culture vices. Whether we are “keeping up” with the Kardashians, following the most recent Twitter war, or taking a quiz about what our favorite color says about us, each of us spends more time than we are proud of keeping well-informed of things that are not really adding anything to our lives. We owe it to ourselves to take time (maybe daily, maybe weekly, maybe less than that) to know what is happening in our area of the law. There are countless ways of doing that: legal blogs, legal and non-legal periodicals, CLEs, and regular e-mails from NCAJ and other organizations are just a few. When the pressure is on, and the pressure is usually on, it’s easy to let those things fall by the wayside. We obviously have an ethical responsibility to remain knowledgeable in the areas in which we practice, but we also owe it to ourselves as attorneys to carve out some time to give ourselves the best advantage in our practice. Knowledge really is power.
Learn to Find and Utilize Resources
It has never been more important to be resourceful and efficient with our time. For us as young lawyers, we are still building a knowledge and skills base. We have questions. Finding ways to get answers is important. One invaluable resource is NCAJ listservs. Both the NLD listserv and your various section listservs are an excellent way to get answers and guidance. The listservs are built into your section member- ship, so make use of them. Finding mentors in the practice is important, too. Often, your law school career development offices can help find alumni practitioners in your area who may be able to take some time to give you pointers about local rules and expectations. There are many ways to find the help that you need, and it is worth taking advantage of these opportunities to be the most successful that you can be.
Start Taking Step toward your Future Today
Thinking ahead to where we want to be in the future can seem daunting no matter what goal you are looking toward. It’s valuable to ask ourselves that cliché interview question: where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? 15 years? As young lawyers, many of us have 30-year careers ahead of us, and having a game plan can help you reach those goals. Many of us in our careers are expecting or hoping to change firms, practice areas, geographical locations, or some other aspect of our careers. Even if those are not goals that you want to come to fruition immediately, you can still start slowly tak- ing steps in that direction. You could pursue pro bono opportunities to learn and be mentored in different areas of law. 4ALL and Lawyer on the Line are both excellent opportunities for that. You could also explore CLE and conferences options, attend networking events to meet others who could give you pointers, read books by attorneys or other professionals in that field, or attend college courses.
Obviously, as we all continue on with our busy lives, these goals may be lofty. I know I will have to practice what I preach. But, as we feel ourselves pulled in so many different directions and our attention being sought in so many ways, let’s at least take some time to invest in ourselves as young lawyers. We invest in ourselves in other ways: our education, our health, our financial future, our retirement. Our careers are something that should similarly be nurtured, even if it is by taking small and simple steps. We deserve it.
This post was originally published in the North Carolina Advocates for Justice's Trial Briefs magazine ( April 2016 issue) and has been reprinted with permission from the NCAJ.