As law students, hard work is not foreign to us; we are used to spending countless hours preparing for potential cold calls or fine-tuning our outlines for upcoming finals. Although this experience will be priceless once you embark on your legal careers, I believe you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed as a summer associate and then as an associate.
I hope the lessons I learned as a summer associate, and now as a young lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, will help you, the next wave of summer associates and recent law school graduates, as you embark on your new careers.
First, you must realize that you belong wherever you end up working. You, like everyone else at your new job (and law school), deserve to be there. Through the countless sacrifices you have made and through all your hard work, you have earned the position and space you are occupying. Never forget this truth, even when you do not understand an assignment and are racking your brain about how to approach it—know that the assignment will get done.
For example, I was recently working on a draft for a reply brief and had to take a step back to remind myself that I could do it. We have all worked too hard to buy into the imposter syndrome; do not let those doubts affect the way you see yourself.
Approach your work with curiosity. It doesn’t matter whether you are putting a binder together or preparing a draft of a brief—look at the tasks you are assigned as an opportunity to learn.
Remember that your job as a summer associate and junior attorney is to make your team members’ lives easier; they need your help more than you realize. If you are eager to help and take on whatever tasks need to be done, you will help the team advance and become a valuable team member.
Be ready to ask questions and seek advice whenever you are given a task. Do not be afraid to ask questions because that is how you truly understand what the assignment entails. Asking questions will also show your assigning attorney that you are thinking through the issues. They would rather answer all your questions than have you spin your wheels on your own for hours because you do not fully understand the assignment.
Also, other associates are a great resource as they can provide you with samples and advice on how to approach a project. In most cases, all you have to do is ask them for input.
Find a Mentor
Take advantage of your firm-provided mentors. If your job does not have a formal mentorship program, seek mentors among the attorneys with whom you work most often.
I have been extremely lucky in that Greenberg Traurig has a mentorship program where I have been paired with an amazing senior associate who gives me advice ranging from how to approach assignments and how to work with specific teams, to balancing my personal life with my work commitments.
The most important consideration when looking for a mentor is finding someone you have a genuine connection with—someone you admire and will see as a role model throughout your career. I know that meeting people and fostering relationships is more difficult now due to the pandemic and the fact that many of you will be working remotely, at least part-time. Do not let not being physically in the office keep you from making meaningful connections.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire, or simply want to meet, because you are working remotely. Ask for that introduction and ask that person to a virtual coffee or an outdoor lunch, if you are both comfortable.
Earlier this year, I attended a presentation that a shareholder from our Tallahassee, Fla., office gave about how to find your passion and advance your career as a young lawyer.
I was so impressed by everything she had accomplished in her career that I messaged the meeting coordinator and asked her to introduce me to the shareholder after the event. Following our introduction, the shareholder told me to email her to coordinate a “tea hour.”
The following week, we ended up talking for over an hour. To this day, the shareholder checks in on me and we have plans to make our “tea hour” a recurring event.
Meet as Many People as Possible
Lastly, make it a goal this summer to meet as many people from your firm as possible. Ultimately, we are all going to do stimulating work wherever we end up after law school and will likely work long hours. What will make your job fulfilling and motivate you to get an assignment done when you are exhausted will be the people you work with; that has been true for me.
If you consistently try to create connections with your colleagues, either virtually or in person, you will find they can be one of the most rewarding aspects of your new career.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Sobeida Peralta is an associate in Greenberg Traurig’s litigation practice in the Chicago office. When she was 12 years old, she emigrated with her family to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. She received her law degree from the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.