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These tips for working in a law firm will help you cultivate your skills, build a strong professional reputation, and achieve success in your legal career. 

How do you make a good impression at a law firm?

In order to attain success within a Florida law firm, or any law firm for that matter, it’s important to understand how this industry works. 

In the legal field, work assignments are determined based on productivity. The most productive employees are given assignments by firm partners, while less productive employees are routinely phased out to the point where they are no longer considered viable for promotion.

If you want to advance upward in a law firm, you need to demonstrate that you’re capable of handling what the partners throw at you, whether getting them a cup of coffee, meeting with a client, or drafting a pleading. You’ll need to be able to work with sustained vigor and submit great work product consistently.

Enter: stress.

Is it stressful to work in a law firm?

The legal field is an inherently stressful one, so it’s important to go into it with your eyes wide open. 

Working in a law firm involves long hours, high standards, and high-stakes cases, all of which contribute to a demanding work environment. The law is always changing, making it feel like you’re never 100% on top of your game. 

Add to all that the high amount of student debt that can come with a legal degree, and you’ve got a career path that can be mentally, physically, and emotionally challenging. 

But this doesn’t mean you must always be drowning in stress. Instead, it means you must actively manage your work and the associated stress levels. These tips for working in a law firm can help. 

Advice Working in a law firm

1. Complete projects with enthusiasm

The most well-regarded legal professionals actually enjoy their jobs. They approach complex cases, difficult clients, and other matters with a sense of joy and enthusiasm. You must display this fervor to truly stand out at your law firm. This means you need to make sure you are working in an area of the law that you truly enjoy, working with people you like spending long hours with, and in an environment you enjoy and feel comfortable in. 

This will also aid with the stress aspect of the industry. When you’re doing something you love, any stress that comes with it feels worthwhile. 

If you do not enjoy where you work, it may make sense to speak with a legal staffing agency or legal recruiting firm to explore your professional options.

2. Anticipate partner and client needs

Law firms are part of the service industry. This means that a profitable law firm has clients who are happy with the representation or service they receive and will pay their legal bills in full and on time. As a result, you need to make sure you treat everyone as if they are a high-dollar client. 

The employees who stand out at law firms develop an understanding of the personalities and preferences of firm leadership. This allows them to anticipate their needs without requiring the firm partner or senior executive to ask that a task be completed affirmatively. The employee knows what it takes to impress the firm partner or executive. The same principles apply to colleagues and mid-level managers within the firm. You want to be the employee that other employees trust to get things done and to achieve objectives.

Being a standout employee at a law firm is akin to being a rock star waiter at a five-star restaurant. A top-notch waiter is someone who knows when to fill a water glass, when to take an order, how to time bringing out an appetizer and main course, and when to present the customer with the bill. It is crafting a level of anticipatory skills that allow you to make sure important needs of firm leadership are addressed on an ongoing basis.

3. Treat everyone with respect and decency

Treating your colleagues with respect and dignity is also absolutely critical. This means if, for example, you utilized a Florida legal recruiter and you are now a new associate at a big law firm, you should not let that success go to your head and start talking down to paralegals or other administrative professionals.

You should always remember that these people are your colleagues and on your “team.” Also, you do not want to be rude or condescending to a paralegal who works for a firm partner. Such conduct can doom your prospects of advancement within the firm since many law firm partners depend on their paralegals and respect their input on important matters (including promotion decisions).

4. Be proactive in cultivating your reputation

An important way to stand out in a law firm is to ensure that your reputation around the office is associated with being reliable, enthusiastic, and someone who can get things done. That is why you need to make sure that whenever you receive a work assignment, it should be the top priority on your to-do list.

A big mistake many law firm employees make is failing to approach important projects with zeal and submitting a sub-part work product. Whether you are drafting a pleading, taking a deposition, or simply copying 3,000 pages of discovery material, you must ensure the project gets done on time and correctly. If you produce a work product that is anything less than your very best, it exposes you to criticism from the firm partners.

Do not let this happen. Make sure to develop a strong reputation for being reliable, prompt, detailed, and, above all else, professional in all that you do. As Forbes Magazine says, “do an excellent job with every task, every day.”

5. Always look for ways to improve

There is a reason they call it the “practice” of law. It is because there is no perfect, immutable legal professional. Even if you submit high-quality work product consistently to your supervisor(s), you should be asking for constructive feedback and taking proactive steps to improve yourself. For example, if you are completing work assignments at a high level, you should ask if the firm needs assistance with business development projects. If you are a new litigator, you should ask firm partners if you can attend a trial and watch the partners.

You need to show that you want to learn everything you can about the practice of law, the firm you are working for, and how you can keep improving as a legal professional, whether that is an associate, a lateral partner, a paralegal, or another staff person.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn