Andrew Ross Sorkin writes the DealBook column for the New York Times. In a recent newsletter, he linked an article by Rich Handler, CEO of Jefferies Financial. Handler writes about the 20 things he wished someone had told him on his first day as an analyst.
What Handler wishes he had known is true for beginners starting out or seasoned attorneys starting out on a new gig. For reasons of space, I cannot discuss all 20, but I have selected a few that I think are particularly relevant for lawyers.
When there’s a topic that goes through Handler’s wish list, it learns both on and off the job. He wishes he had gone to more trouble building relationships with the juniors with every client. “If you take the time to really develop a relationship with someone who is also at the age of struggle to become relevant, that bond can become a foundation that will last a lifetime.”
Learn as much as you can about everything. Yes, put your head down to get your job done, but the more you learn about your coworkers’ activities, the better chance you have of proactively managing your career and making the best decisions for you.
Cooperation and collegiality are vital. Looking back, Handler says that there has never really been competition among his colleagues; get to know her, he says and support her as best you can. “The sharp, playful, hyper-competitive people who might have been the first to get out of the gate are generally the ones who washed themselves out.” Turtle v. Bunny someone
Do your own thinking. It’s okay to get opinions from people you trust, but at the end of the day, it’s your work product based on your thinking. “If you only do and seldom think and process, you cannot grow.” Thinking is not an idle act.
As much as possible, make sure you attend customer meetings, phone calls, and conversations. Be decisive. The senior member of the team can always decline your request, but it’s the old story of “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.”
If you have any ideas for improvement, get in touch. As Handler notes, “It can be more work [for you], but it could also be the difference so why not try it? “
Learn to keep in touch with all of the people you work with. You never know how paths might cross in the future.
Understand the business. Often times I would suggest outside consultants to spend some time in a branch office to learn about the operational side (where most claims arise). Understand the job of the cashier, the job of the operations manager and the pressures they always face to never go wrong when cross-selling products. When you appreciate and understand the business, you can more easily understand when claims arise, how they arose, and how to resolve them. Nobody ever accepted me on my suggestion.
Take into account the real impact of your work. Are you structuring a deal? Representing the client in legal disputes? Think what if the deal is craters, if the litigation contains a smoking gun. What are the real consequences for the people involved? Do not think that it is less than what it is. It is not.
Learn and understand your law firm’s or legal department’s culture of why they do things the way they do. Are you comfortable with the culture or do you feel like a fish on a bike? Adapting to the culture is essential, whether it has been around forever or a startup. If you don’t share the same values, you won’t be happy. Huge paychecks don’t relieve discomfort.
Handler encourages people to get to know your employees outside of the office: coffee, lunch, somewhere away from there. And leave your smartphone on your desk. Can you ever imagine a time when there were no smartphones? Unless you have an upcoming deal or litigation that requires immediate attention, give your employees the courtesy of your full attention. (As an old lawyer, I not only imagine a time when there were no smartphones, I lived then … dial phones, remote operators, encyclopedias instead of Wikipedia, no fax, no internet, etc.)
When it comes to physical and mental health, Handler says that despite the real world pressures exerted by peers, managers, and yourself, failure to strike a balance between family, relationships, and health leads to burnout. Their value decreases with increasing burnout.
Do not be mistreated. If you are treated like a doormat, you become one. Don’t let this happen to you. If behavior is unacceptable to you, say so. I remember an old cartoon, I don’t remember the one, in which the mouse character was asked, “Are you a man or a mouse? Well, squeak. “
Take a vacation. Break up with the office. Move the smartphone out of range. The world will keep spinning while you’re gone. Remember that no one is irreplaceable, even if you might think differently.
Appreciate the opportunity the job presents. Says Handler, “Despite all the difficulties, endless work, and life at the totem pole, if you do your job properly in a quality company, you will truly get experience, skills, perspectives and relationships that will last a lifetime. “He’s spot on.
Handler reminds us all that even if you are told that something is “life and death,” it is not. Trust me.
Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers working as a lawyer in a friendlier time. She had a varied legal career, including as a deputy public prosecutor, as a solo practice and as leading in-house gigs. She now teaches all day what gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and the people in between – it’s not always polite. You can reach them by email at [email protected].