People who have never worked in the law firm environment have no idea how stressful it can be. In addition to all the normal work pressures, law firms are filled with people who are innately competitive. And, regardless of your practice area, the stakes are high on every project you touch. These circumstances can create the perfect storm for negativity, exhaustion, and dissatisfaction.
In these environments, it is easy to slip into a pattern of complacency. Unfortunately, that attitude is never going to impress your bosses or enhance your career. To the contrary, leaders in any industry – law firms included – are looking for people who can rise above the fray. Thus, we’ve compiled a list of simple ways you can become a standout employee in your law firm, notwithstanding the day-to-day pressures you face.
#1: Make allies throughout the firm
There can be a lot of sub-groups within law firms. You’ve got partners, associates, of-counsel, paralegals, legal assistants, and administrative staff. Unfortunately, too many people associate only with their direct peers. This is a mistake. Standout employees make solid allies with everyone on the team.
For example, one of the greatest career moves a young attorney can make is to forge good relationships with paralegals and other non-attorney staff in the firm. Once you have the respect of these critical employees, your life within the law firm will be a whole lot easier. They tend to know the intricacies and mechanisms of practicing law better than most attorneys and will become your greatest asset if you treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve.
#2: Keep a good attitude
One way to really stand out in the law firm environment is to keep an upbeat attitude notwithstanding the stress. This is particularly true during times of immense pressure, such as during the weeks leading up to trial.
One of the greatest things about happiness is that it is infectious. If you can manage to keep smiling and laughing when the team is under the gun, you’ll find that your colleagues will necessarily become more relaxed and jovial.
Keep in mind, however, that the reverse is also true. If you’re constantly negative and grumbling, you’ll cause those around you to also be in a foul mood. You will also definitely stand out amongst your peers – but not in a good way.
#3: Beat your deadlines
We all know that law firms are deadline driven places. This is true whether you practice litigation, real estate, corporate law, or estate planning. Thus, one of the greatest things you can do to be a standout law firm employee is to consistently beat – not just meet – your deadlines.
Imagine how the partner in charge of your team would react to these two employees: (1) someone who meets every deadline, but tends to drop projects off to the partner at 4:55pm on the exact date they’re due; versus (2) an employee who consistently turns projects in to that partner 24 hours before the deadline. Unquestionably, the second employee would garner way more positive attention from the boss.
#4: Strive to be great
We all want to do our best work all the time. Nevertheless, if you truly focus on enhancing those attributes that employers value most, you’ll really stand out as a stellar employee. Critical workplace attributes include things like confidence (with humility), dependability, creativity, flexibility, and – as discussed above – a positive attitude.
Finally, another effective way to stand out to your employer is to anticipate upcoming problems and forge a solution before anyone else realizes that problem is about to hit. This can happen in a variety of ways.
For example, if you notice that your boss always seems to forget to bring a pen to depositions, stock the conference room with her favorite kind of pen. Or perhaps one of your team members is terrible with proper citations within legal briefs. In that case, ask for an advance draft of whatever he is working on and start cleaning up those citations before the last-minute rush to file with the court. Maybe there’s a client who is especially difficult to follow-up with, and you’re the one who knows to reach out more often and earlier for what you need.
There are many different ways that you could uniquely stand out within your law firm. The question you need to ask yourself is, how do you want to stand out? Do you want to be known for being mediocre, being a grump, or for being great? We should all strive for the latter. If you practice just these five tips on a consistent basis, you’re sure to get there sooner rather than later.