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First Semester as a Practicing Attorney

December 02, 2015

Stanley Polit L’15, reflects on his “first semester” as a practicing attorney. He is currently an Associate at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP in Chicago.

 

This September is the first time in twenty years I didn’t have a first day of school.  However, September 21st did represent the first day of a new kind of educational journey.  As I walked into my new office and began my first day of legal practice, I felt the same nerves and sense of excitement I had as a 1L entering Silverman Hall for the first time.  In both cases, I knew the path ahead would be challenging.  Luckily, this time I had a set of law school experiences that prepared me to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead.

As I complete my “first semester” of legal practice, I’ve reflected on some advice I wish I would have told myself as a first semester law student.

1. Learn the Value of Asking for Help

When I began law school, so many of my friends (including myself) avoided asking questions.  How would others view us if we sought help or wanted clarification?  While each of us had access to valuable peers, professors, and professional staff, we nonetheless felt this compelling need to figure everything out on our own.  

Now, seeking help is part of my daily routine.  Learning how to ask the right questions is a skill that has become just as important as anything I learned in law school.  I save myself so much time and energy by not trying to reinvent the wheel and accepting when there’s a gap in my knowledge. 

2. Develop a Passion for Learning Outside the “Classroom”

As a 1L, it’s easy to feel exhausted by the sheer volume of new information coming at you each day.  This feeling can easily lead to the false belief that the only information worth learning is on a syllabus or in preparation for a final exam. 

As a new lawyer, the rate of new material hasn’t changed, but my approach is much different.  I have gained a much better understanding of my assignments by taking a few minutes to read about the broader context of the topic or question.  By taking a more holistic, 360-degree approach to my learning, I’ve become better at spotting issues and understanding why they matter to a client.  This approach, in turn, allows me to provide more effective service to our clients.

3. Embrace the Process

When you start law school, there is this tremendous pressure to start off strong, which makes the beginning of law school feel like a perpetual game of catching up.  Not only is that mindset exhausting, but it’s counterproductive to gaining the skills needed to be successful.   

I’ve quickly learned that, unlike law school, legal practice doesn’t have a final exam to “test” how well you understand a large body of knowledge.  Instead, you both gain and use information in a much more incremental way.  Each day I try to take a few minutes to reflect on what I’ve learned and how I can better apply that knowledge tomorrow.  Recognizing these small, but important, steps forward helps foster a growth mindset and reinforce the belief that each day is moving you closer to your personal and professional goals.