Life as a New Attorney in a Law Firm

erin o'neill

Erin O’Neill


“You know nothing” seems to be a recurring phrase in my head these days (and not just because Game of Thrones is finally back). Recently Danny Foster, one of the attorneys I am working with at FGMC, asked me if I would write an article for the quarterly newsletter. I asked him what I should write about. He responded, “write about some interesting legal issue”. I then came back to that thought “You know nothing.” I pondered the assignment for awhile and told Danny that I wasn’t sure if I had enough firsthand experience yet to draft an interesting legal article. So he said, “You just graduated law school and just started in a law firm, tell us all what it’s like to be a new lawyer.” Well that was an assignment I certainly knew a lot about.

When I graduated from law school, I was absolutely set on doing transactional work and scoffed at the idea of doing litigation. Of course, that was before I joined FGMC. At our firm there are numerous types of law that we handle. From transactional to litigation, criminal to personal injury and everything in between. It has allowed me to spread my wings and learn about different types of law from a hands-on approach. It is a fascinating experience. In fact, while I never envisioned myself as a litigator, I have spent a great deal of my time at FGMC working with the litigation team. I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy litigation. This is not to say that I am no longer interested in transactional work (because I am) but I am really happy in my current role. I have been fortunate enough to work at a firm that allows me to explore both avenues.

The first thing I learned as a freshly minted lawyer was that law school does not really teach you how to practice law. It seems like every time I get assigned a task (other than legal research) it is something I have never done before. But even the research I do reminds me of just how little I know right now. As a new attorney I am on a very steep learning curve – the learning certainly did not end once I graduated law school. I love the new challenges, but just like anything in life a new challenge can be daunting.

Despite my limited experience, the other attorneys are always willing to answer my questions, give me feedback, and give me any other help I may require. It seems that the lawyers here at FGMC (partners and associates) remember what it was like to be a neophyte lawyer. Even though the attorneys at FGMC are incredibly busy with their own work, they never turn me away when I need help. While taking the time to help me does take time out of their day, they know that they need to produce top quality work for their clients and the more they assist me, the better lawyer I will become. One of my favorite things I have gotten to do so far is interact with the clients. Every client has unique goals and objectives and getting to know them helps me focus my work accordingly. After all, the clients are the reason we even exist.

By providing me with guidance now, I will be able to assist them on more complex projects down the road and serve the clients better. I have to keep reminding myself that in order to get to the point of being able to do the tasks in a more cost-effective manner I just have to continue to do these same tasks and get better at them every time. I have also learned the paralegals and legal assistants are great resources because in all honesty they know more about practicing law than I do.

I have learned a few other things during my short time as an attorney. Writing out a to-do list every day and making sure my calendar is up-to-date and accurate is essential to my efficiency and organization. Organization is key and just like learning new types of law is a steep learning curve, so is keeping myself organized and focused. Additionally, every attorney at the firm has a different writing style so it is important to understand what everyone expects from me and to tailor my work accordingly. Furthermore, the importance of taking notes is not lost on me. My memory is not infallible – it can be hard to remember every single important detail for the projects I am working on and taking detailed notes has been a huge asset in my professional development.

In my short time as an attorney, I have come to know that my challenges are my rewards, and that it is ok to not know much right now. If anybody considering going into law thinks they know what kind of law they want to practice, they should think again, because they may be closing themselves off to areas of law that are a perfect fit for them. Also, for any aspiring attorneys out there, be sure to find a firm (like FGMC) that allows you the flexibility of figuring out what you are truly interested in. I am lucky to have found a place that truly invests in their young associates and I look forward to seeing what kind of cases I’ll be working on around this time next year.

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