The six killer mistakes lawyers make when starting at a new firm

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It doesn’t really matter how experienced you are: starting a new job takes you right back to school.

The uncertainty, the desire to please, the realisation that you now actually have to live up to everything you promised in your interviews… Step through the doors and you might well start having flashbacks to your first days at kindergarten.

But at all costs, avoid the following mistakes.

  1. Slagging off your former boss. Before you even start, be sure to leave your last place graciously, however disgruntled you may be with your former firm. Don’t follow the example of the ex-SNR Denton employee who felt it was important to send a farewell email to the whole firm describing her boss’s professional standards as ‘putrid’. These emails have a habit of getting published and/or going viral. And even if you’re lucky enough to have your details removed by the publisher, it probably won’t be that hard for your new employer to trace it back to you.
  2. Looking too keen – in a frightening bunny-boiler kind of way. Yes, you may be brimming with ideas and boundless puppy-dog enthusiasm. But this is about settling into a team that has its own ways of doing things, its obscure codes of behaviour, and possibly a deep suspicion of anyone new – ie, you. Be polite and modest, yet helpful and attentive. Listen to everything you’re told, make notes, try to remember names and generally avoid acquiring an early reputation for being the office pain in the arse.
  3. Turning up late for anything, anywhere. It’s an obvious one, but one of the easiest to mess up. And if it goes wrong, don’t expect much sympathy from your law firm. In a leaked memo, published earlier in 2013, one managing partner was particularly peeved that some of his lawyers had the gall to arrive after 9.15am, having worked late the night before. He wanted to make it clear that long hours would be no excuse for tardiness. Indeed, there would be consequences for those missing his scheduled 9am ‘visual checks’: “Persistent non-justifiable lateness will henceforth be included as a factor that will be considered in relation to internal promotions, appraisals, pay reviews and renewal of contract decisions.” And this was all to a tried and tested team.
  4. Going out and getting drunk. It’s not uncommon for new team members to be invited out for after-work drinks. Downing a barrel-full will not release the tension. Stay sober even if those around you are lapping it up. Last year, the media jumped on the story of a certain late night brawl between a solicitor and trainee following a booze-laden work party. While you will not be planning anything so extreme do not, at all and any cost, put yourself in a situation where you might end up kissing, or sleeping with, an attractive new colleague, dancing on a table, or getting into an punch-up.
  5. Getting drawn into the tittle-tattle. There’s bound to be plenty of office gossip, but keep out of it until your feet are under the table. Don’t be drawn into conversations about colleagues or partners, and definitely don’t start moaning about anyone – even if you have just been blanked by your supposed mentor. Joining the inner gossip circle is a rite of passage which you’ll make at the anointed time.
  6. Sending an email ‘home’. In those first few weeks of uncertainty and loneliness, the temptation to email a loved one will be strong. Especially if you’re having a tough time and hate everyone you’ve so far met. Try to avoid the temptation. Of if you must communicate, then check once, twice and three times over that the email is definitely going to your intended recipient. Your boss will probably not want to know what you really think of your new job.

There are of course many others that could get in the way of your early success – although many boil down to common sense.

We’ll assume, for example, that as a lawyer you know to dress smartly for your first days in a law firm environment. Although, then again, there was the story of the Nashville lawyer who turned up to court wearing her sweatpants… CP

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