how to enter into a good law firm

We know what experiences at the law school are like, and what we should do to succeed in law school. The joy of success, the sadness of failure, the thrill of having achieved things, getting back into action from failure, these are some of the familiar feelings we have known. We know that if we study a bit and get good marks, participate in some extra-curricular like mooting or write articles, and are somewhat serious at internships, we are likely to get good jobs. This was my worldview of life in law school, and most law students, if they think about their life seriously enough, have a similar vision of life in law school and beyond.

What is it that actually happens after law school?

Some questions occasionally arise in the mind of a law student, such as-

  • What happens when you move out from law school into the law firm?
  • Is it fun? Why do our seniors who have bagged those top rupee-millionaire jobs hate their lives and leave their jobs?
  • Are you also going to hate your life after you start working?

These thoughts are dismissed out of your mind almost as soon as they arise, due to lack of much information around.
I am writing about this here because little is known about life after law school, and because being psychologically prepared beforehand is really going to help you survive better and remain happier. This post contains what I shall call the key to survival, a method to the madness of working in a corporate environment. I am writing about this so that you can shape your perspective of life in a law firm, and so that the occasionally erratic deadlines and schedules at work do not destroy your hope in the system.

Here’s a brief introduction to life in a law firm:

You have moved from the top of the pecking order to an entirely new world, and, as usual, you start from the bottom of this one. People may make the mistake of being over-excited or over-enthusiastic and go out of their way to impress their seniors – this is a recipe to disaster. Your seniors will tell you that there is nothing like pleasing them, if work has to be done at a particular time, it should be done by then, and it should be of acceptable quality (more on the quality part later in this post). You don’t have to finish it before the scheduled time, there are no brownie points for coming first. There definitely are brownie points for doing it well.
Like with everything else, it is likely that things will take much more time to complete than expected, as you have just started a new job and are learning the tools of the trade. But you will notice that this can be the case for anyone no matter how senior he is in the hierarchy. You can never really predict how long you will take to do something unless you have really begun doing it. The key to keeping your balance when timelines are unpredictable and work timings exceed certainty is this: Don’t start hating something just because it is taking more time – figure out ways to make the process more efficient so that you take less time to complete a similar task when it comes around the next time.

The key to survival

What are the other tools of the trade you need to know? You need to be able to manage people’s expectations, and constantly improve. You may be a slow learner, a fast learner, a careful guy, but you need to observe, and ensure that people around you are not offended by your habits, and you’ve got to genuinely try your best to improve. At the same time, don’t cover up your weaknesses or handicaps, because people’s expectations out of you can be unreasonably high if they don’t know your limits. If that happens, you are going to find yourself working disproportionately hard just to keep things going. You’ve got to improve your skills and work output, but you can’t become superman. A brilliant way of doing this is by enrolling yourself in various online courses while in college and getting ahead of the competition. For example, the revolutionary online course on Mooting has produced groundbreaking results in effectively improving various skills that are imperative for a lawyer to survive in any work culture. You must keep this distinction in mind. Work hard, be efficient, produce quality work, but don’t try and be superman simply to impress people. Others don’t expect you to be superman either, and they won’t kill you.
Sometimes, the bad phases can be stretched. A corporate law firm usually has many lawyers and can also suffer from infrastructural bottlenecks, so if there is a sudden increase in work coming from clients, the firm might be happy, but your work timings may get bad. That does not mean that your work hours will remain bad forever. Getting into a bigger office or hiring more lawyers cannot happen immediately, and the process takes some time – this could well be from three to four months to a year.
For junior lawyers, this period will usually be the entire period that they have worked in a law firm. So it is very easy for you if you go through such a patch to conclude that life is hell in law firms. However, this information will help you put things in a bigger perspective, and you will know that your difficult phase will pass. Don’t forget to discuss the situation with your seniors, HR personnel, and have an informal word with the top management, so that you know whether any steps are being taken to improve the situation. In a working career which for most people spans 30 to 40 years, surely, 6 months of a hectic schedule should hardly matter much unless the hectic schedule keeps repeating itself.

The last mantra, one that many of us have forgotten, is that when you get free time, make the most out of it. Waste time, waste as much as you have, but, in the words of Seth Godin, don’t waste it poorly. Don’t spend time doing anything that you do not enjoy. Live the life of your choice. Freshen yourself.

The next post shall be on how you can impart some self-training to yourself to smoothen your transition from law school to a law firm, communication skills, weekends, work-life balance and options to chill out (with friends and colleagues). Stay tuned.

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