When you go through the recruiting process, a rather sudden switch occurs where you go from being a seller to a buyer. Before you get the offer, you’re selling – your experience, your special expertise, your work ethic. After the offer comes in, you then become on the receiving end of the sales pitch and the decision becomes yours to make. It is in this mode that you start work at your new firm. You’ve been wooed, you’ve signed on, and both sides have been sold on a lot of potential and possibilities. How do you protect all that enthusiasm and goodwill and immediately demonstrate value?
Repeat after me: “How can I be most helpful?” I ask this question all the time – of candidates, of clients. You should ask this to everyone you talk to – from your admin to the managing partner. You may find that it results in some interesting projects that are slightly outside the scope of the role you filled, but that’s OK (good, even). Do bits of work for as many people as you can. Make yourself invaluable.
- Say YES. To drinks with new colleagues, to lunch, to committees. You can always shave some of the obligations off later but start with yes.
- Be curious. Ask people about their work, how they developed their clients, what drew them to the firm/the practice/law school/California in general. You’re in the habit of interviewing and thus answering questions. But turn it around and you’ll learn a lot about the people you’re sharing walls with.
- Don’t look back. “At my old firm we used to….” This isn’t a helpful phrase at the jump. It may be fruitful down the line to suggest the consideration of a billing system you’ve used before, but don’t let these words escape your lips for the first few months at least. The new firm’s systems work – it’s on you to adapt.
- Make connections. Find people who went to your undergrad or law school at the firm, both in your office and the firm’s others. Send a quick email introducing yourself and pointing out the commonality. You never know when you might want to reach back out.
- Personalize your space – put a picture here or there. Invite colleagues in and have the ensuing discussion about your partner/parents/dog/baby and how smart/funny/adorable/exhausting they are. It’s good to be a human in the eyes of your coworkers.
- Ask your direct boss if he or she has any specific requests for your work product. People are funny and want what they want. I worked with someone who wanted (needed!) everything in 11.5 font. Demonstrate early and often that you understand that a large part of your job as an associate is to make partners’ jobs easier. This is one way to do that.
Starting a new job is exhilarating and more than a little scary. You are the new kid in town, and you understand the value of a first impression. Be observant in your new environment, make connections and acclimate to the way things are done at your new firm. Observe how others get the work done and navigate the landscape and then turn to making it your own.