The New Lawyer's Handbook: 101 Things They Don't Teach You in Law School

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9781572487093: The New Lawyer's Handbook: 101 Things They Don't Teach You in Law School

101 Success Strategies They Didn't Teach You in Law School - get expert advice on becoming a better lawyer.

Law school prepares you to think like a lawyer, write like a lawyer, and research like a lawyer—but once you're in the door of a law firm, there's a whole new set of skills you need. The New Lawyer's Handbook guides you through the 101 essential things you need to know in order to excel.

From how to handle your clients and how to work with people in your office, to why it pays to learn to play golf and maintain some semblance of a family life even as you make your billables, The New Lawyer's Handbook gives you the knowledge you need to succeed.

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About the Author:

Karen L. Thalacker is a practicing attorney at Gallagher, Langlas, and Gallagher in Iowa. She is also an adjunct professor at Wartburg College where she teaches Business Law.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpt from Section I: Starting Out Right at a Law Firm

Two dogs are chasing a car and one says to the other, "What are you going to do if you catch it?"

That is exactly the way I felt at the beginning of my legal career. I had been chasing this dream of being a lawyer for so long, and when I had everything I needed—my college degree, my law degree, and my license to practice—I was a little uncertain about what would come next.

Despite the uncertainty you may be feeling, stay positive, pay attention to detail, and work hard. If you can do that, your transition from student to lawyer will be a smooth one.

1. Get the Details of Your Employment Agreement in Writing

When it comes to their own business affairs, attorneys are notorious for failing to get the terms of their agreements in writing. You would never tell a client to do business on a handshake, so why would you do it yourself? It is important to start your job off right by getting the terms of your employment in writing.

If you are a new attorney, getting the employment agreement you want is a four-part process:

1. Do some research and be prepared to negotiate your agreement. Get to know the Career Services Director at your law school. The director's job is to help both students and graduates find the job they want. He or she will have a wealth of knowledge about the range of salary and benefits you might expect given your education and experience and the size and location of the firm. If you are going straight into a partnership situation or are office-sharing with someone, you need very specific information from the firm itself about past profits and expenses so that you can determine how future profits and expenses will be shared.

2. Keep an open mind during negotiations. Don't be so set on a particular salary range that you overlook a firm that has amazing benefits or opportunities. That being said, if you work hard, you will be worth every penny the firm pays you, so do not be shy about fighting for the salary you believe you are worth.

3. Get the agreement in writing. If you fail to do this, you make it easier for your employer to avoid living up to his or her part of the deal.

4. Don't sign the agreement until you've had another lawyer look at it. Even if it's a friend or mentor and not someone you've actually hired, it's always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes check it over.

2. Appearances Matter

When I say that appearances matter in your law practice, I am not suggesting that you need expensive suits and expensive cars. My dad says that a bad golfer with nice equipment is still a bad golfer. However, even though it is true that the finest suit will not make you a good lawyer, there is still a certain threshold of acceptable appearance that is expected of you.

Throughout your career, you will see attorneys who should immediately be reported to the Legal Fashion Police. The most extreme example is the attorney who went to visit her client at the detention facility wearing a tube top. That's right, the attorney was wearing a tube top. Even the facility expressed their disapproval of her clothing choice.

So put your tube top away and ask yourself these questions to determine whether or not your appearance is appropriate:

1. How do I look? When my clients look at me, will they have confidence in me as their attorney? Am I dressed modestly and tastefully? Are my clothes too tight or too loose? Are my teeth clean? Would a judge think I am dressed appropriately? No one will want to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to someone who has body odor and bad breath. You are a professional. So look like one. If you have no idea how to do that, go to a clothing store or department store and a sales associate will be glad to help you put some outfits together.

2. How does my office look? Has my client's file been compiled in an orderly fashion? When my clients see my office, will they have confidence that I won't lose their documents? Do I have stacks of paper everywhere? Are there stale donuts and soda cans strewn everywhere? To a client in crisis, these are not good signs. If a client comes in unexpectedly and I have a full desk, my assistant and I have a designated spot where we stash the clutter. Avoid shoving it in your desk because you don't want documents to get lost or misplaced.

3. How does my assistant look? How does her work area look? Is he dressed neatly? Is he or she trying to make clients feel welcome and important? The appearance and attitude of your assistant is a direct reflection on you so pay attention.

While expensive clothes and furniture might make a certain first impression, competence and professionalism will make a lasting one.

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