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What Young Lawyers Are Getting Wrong

Aebra Coe LAW360.COM

Law360 (August 6, 2019, 3:40 PM EDT) -- Young attorneys enter law firms full of ambition and motivation to succeed, but there are a number of major mistakes many of them end up making early on in their careers that can thwart their goals.

During recent Q&As with Law360 as part of an ongoing interview series, leaders from Crowell & Moring LLP, Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC and several other law firms pointed to the most common career blunders they see new attorneys make. The mistakes they've observed often fall into two broad categories: improper career development and a failure to effectively communicate.

When it comes to communication, managing partners said young attorneys need to ask more questions, graciously accept criticism, and communicate regularly with old acquaintances and friends.

New attorneys are all too often afraid to ask questions of those around them because of pressure to always seem supremely knowledgeable, but that is a mistake, according to Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP managing partner Alan Tarter.

"One of the wonderful things about practicing law is we always get to learn new things every single day," Tarter said. "The attorneys that embrace that challenge — they're not always going to know the answers and they need to research and learn — they're going to build a magnificent foundation for their practice."

That need to ask questions extends to interactions with partners, said Quarles & Brady LLP chair Kimberly Leach Johnson. One big problem she said she sees is when associates fail to communicate sufficiently with partners about not understanding assignments or if they feel like they're in over their heads.

"[They need to] make sure they fully understand the scope, what's being asked, the time frame when it's due, and if they do get in over their head and think it's going to take more time, coming back to the partner and talking about it," Johnson said.

Law firm recruiters and management consultants agreed that communication is often key to an associate's success. Major Lindsey & Africa's Michelle Fivel, for example, said she thinks it would behoove young lawyers to ask more questions about the bigger picture when they receive assignments so that they have an understanding of how they fit into the deals or cases on which they're working.

"Having that understanding enables them to do a good job on that assignment but also primes them for more responsibility on their next assignment," Fivel said.

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