This is a things I’m doing post, not an advice post. I can’t give advice on succeeding or surviving in Biglaw because, frankly, I haven’t done either yet. Six months in, I can say positively that I hate my job a lot less than I thought I would. Not at all, actually. So maybe I’m doing a few things right?
Things I am doing:
Saying yes. To billable and non-billable work. It might seem like a no-brainer to say yes to billable work. I mean, why wouldn’t you, especially in a depressed legal market? I made the mistake of turning down an assignment when I first started by asking if I could start in a few days after wrapping up some other projects I was working on. I learned the hard way that asking for a few extra days to start is tantamount to saying no, even if you have legit reasons to do so, and I spent the next month waiting for my phone to ring with an assignment again.
Regarding non-billable work, the key is not to say yes to everything. I know some associates whose mantra is to never volunteer and never say yes to work that’s not going to count toward your hours. These people are smart. They recognize that, come evaluation time, the firm pretty much doesn’t care how much non-billable work you do. It won’t get you a bonus or a raise. These people are also stupid. Sometimes doing random client development work during lunch or slaving away on a pro bono case on the weekend is the worst. It’s a good way to meet people, though, and it’s a good way to make them like you. Being well-liked might not translate to a bonus or a raise, but it will help you keep your job and might lead to billable work down the line.
Relax. A senior associate at my firm warned me about one if the partners that I do work for. Per this associate, Canadian Partner hates when people use pens of a certain color, to the point that he doesn’t even want to see those pens in his office. Here’s the rub: the associate couldn’t remember if it was blue or black. “I’ll find out and get back to you,” he assured me. “No worries, I’ll just ask [the somewhat less terrifying person I work for].” He looked appalled. “Don’t ask her! She’s a partner!” Now, he had enough of a point that I didn’t ask her. There are unspoken rules and marked heirarchies. But! Now that I know both partners in question better, I know they both would have gotten a big kick out of me asking. It’s also become obvious that Canadian Partner must have been messing with some scared associate long ago, or maybe intentionally started the rumor. Because he’s funny like that. And human like that. And I’m pretty sure the reason I get on well with both partners is because I am also human and willing to risk occasionally looking stupid. Maybe if I kept my mouth shut, everybody would think I am smarter and more professional than I am, but that’s not worth sacrificing human interactions with my co-workers.
Things I don’t do:
Attend networking events. Remember what I said before about saying yes? This rule does not apply to any and all social or professional activities. If I said yes to every lunchtime or after work invitation, I would never get work done and Husband would hate me. It is important not to be in your office all day and it is (arguably) important to expand your professional network, but I accomplish these things by taking on assignments with new people and having friends. You don’t have to go to a Bar Association meeting to network. You can join a frisbee team or go to a church social or go to happy hour and, as long as you’re interested in what you do and in tune with ways to help other people, then you’re good. That’s networking.
Work all day and night in my office. If there’s one thing that’s going to be my downfall, it’s this. For me to be happy and human, I have to have a life outside of the office. So far nobody has seemed to mind that, when I can, I leave at a reasonable hour. I attribute this to the fact that I work hard (and efficiently) when I’m there, am willing to stay late when somebody explicitly asks me to, and am somewhat likeable (at the risk of getting repetitive, being a normal, fun person will get you far in the legal world, and probably a lot of other worlds, too). Also, I have a laptop. So shouldn’t I be able to work anywhere?
This mentality does not match up to the picture of a successful associate that I had before I started working. Then again, I never matched up to the other people’s pictures of a successful law student and I came out of that okay. So take the foregoing as you will. And if you’re not a lawyer? I apologize for the foregoing and am impressed you made it this far.