A few key takeaways from the “How to Be a Lawyer” webinar, hosted by Hotshot and moderated by Jason Mendelson.
At the “How to Be a Lawyer” webinar, Jason Mendelson and his co-panelists shared practical tips about how to transition from law student to lawyer. Check out a few key takeaways from their discussion below. And be sure to download a recording of the webinar here.
1. Understand the role of lawyers as service providers.
As Jason Mendelson explained, a lawyer is no different from “the person who comes to fix your plumbing at your house. At the end of the day, we are service providers, and we get paid to help others.” Jason also reminded everyone that “when you’re a junior attorney with a big law firm, the partners are sort of the clients.” It’s important to remember that they “all do things differently.”
2. Context matters.
Doing great work requires thinking beyond the project immediately at hand to the larger context of the case or transaction, the client’s goals, and the real-world context of the client’s industry. For example, Lynne Davis’s firm is focused exclusively on employment law and specializes in independent investigations and mediations of employment claims. She explained that it’s important for junior lawyers in her practice to recognize their role as a neutral party. Only by understanding that context can they adjust their tone and language accordingly.
Grasping the broader context is also critical when doing legal research. As Jason Lynch puts it, “it’s not enough to find one case. You have to find the whole constellation of cases that directly answer that question, but also all of the implied or potential questions and the boundaries of your issue.” Having the ability to consider and account for the big picture is the next-level thinking that senior lawyers and clients expect.
3. Take responsibility for your career growth, education, and your inevitable mistakes.
Although your formal legal education ends with graduation, developing the knowledge you’ll need to be successful requires ongoing learning. One way to do this is by asking a lot of questions and by actively seeking out answers (before asking) using on-demand resources like Hotshot. Another is to make a list of the types of projects you want to work on and to then seek out those opportunities. For ideas, look at the list Kenzo Kawanabe provides in Guest Chapter 3 of the book How to Be a Lawyer: The Path from Law School to Success.
As Lynne Davis explained, taking responsibility also means you need to “own your mistakes, [and] take accountability.” “A lot of deadlines, even court deadlines, can be massaged” and “you can fix some things later,” Lynne said. So, when you make a mistake (and you will), be upfront and talk to the senior lawyer in charge as soon as you’re aware of the problem.
4. Get as much real-world experience as possible—in school and early in your career.
Discussing the value of clinics and pro bono work, Kenzo Kawanabe said, “there is nothing like the real-world experience of representing a client in court or on the other side of the table.” The more time you spend working with real clients and helping to solve their problems, the more you’ll improve your soft skills—which are often the hardest yet most important skills to develop.
5. Success as a lawyer includes your happiness.
The panelists define success as having happy clients, a happy employer, and a happy you. As Jason Mendelson puts it, “you’re only going to be as good a lawyer as you are happy.” You get to define what “happy you” looks like, and it’s important to figure that out. Taking responsibility for your path toward success is a crucial part of the process.
If you’d like a copy of How to Be a Lawyer: The Path from Law School to Success by Alex Paul and Jason Mendelson, you can get it for 40% off with discount code HBTL4 on wiley.com through December 31, 2022.