Five takeaways for new lawyers just admitted to the bar

Issue January/February 2017 By Nicole M. Crowley

The Massachusetts Bar Association's Law Practice Management Section welcomes the 1,198 new lawyers that joined the Massachusetts bar this past November, and we offer these tips for your practice as you begin your career:

1. Do not be afraid to ask questions and for advice. If you are at a medium to large firm, you may be working for several different partners and helping junior partners or senior associates with projects. They may take their legal, institutional, and client knowledge for granted. Be sure to understand precisely what you are being asked to do before starting a project, the timetable and deadlines for the project, and confirm that you understand the result or answer the client is looking for. Provide periodic updates if you are working on a large project. By ensuring that you understand the project and that you do not go down a stray path, you will be better able to manage your time and be more efficient throughout the day.

2. Be familiar with the Rules of Professional Conduct. The rules can be a trap for even the most experienced and savvy attorney. Make sure to understand such important rules as client fees (Rule 1.5), how to handle client money (Rule 1.15), conflicts (Rules 1.7 - 1.9), and how to advertise your business (Rule 7.1) Unsure of how to respond to a particular situation? Ask another attorney for help or submit an inquiry to the MBA Committee on Professional Ethics. The Committee also publishes opinions that interpret the Rules of Professional Conduct. More information on the Ethics Committee and the published opinions can be found at www.massbar.org/for-attorneys/ethical-inquiries.

3. Manage expectations. Finishing a project on time for a partner or agreeing to represent a new client that has a fast approaching deadline is as important as agreeing to accept the project or client in the first place. Do not over-commit yourself in an effort to get ahead. The details do matter and taking on too much can lead to corner cutting and hasty review. Second chances are rare. You do not want to make mistakes because you over promised on when you would complete a project or your ability to handle a case.

4. Pursue opportunity (no matter how small). Want to be litigator? Accept every opportunity to go to court, whether it is a small claims hearing, an unopposed motion, or a case management conference. Those events may seem inconsequential but they will provide you the opportunity to see other attorneys in action, appear before judges, and meet court staff. Want to work in-house but do not have the necessary experience? Use pro bono and volunteer opportunities to gain the skills and experience you need while assisting clients that may otherwise go without legal assistance. You will forge new relationships, and meet future clients and/or employers, while doing something you enjoy.

5. Be efficient. Chances are another attorney in your firm has conducted similar research, drafted the same motion, or responded to similar discovery. Do not spend time reinventing the wheel. If you are opening your own practice, make use of law practice management software that enables you to save form emails to respond to client inquiries, document assembly software to create and fill-in form documents (like discovery) and save all research that you conduct. There is never a need to draft the same email or conduct the same research twice.

Nicole Crowley is an associate at Tucker, Saltzman, Dyer & O'Connell, LLP. Her practice focuses on insurance defense and coverage analysis.

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