If you want to be a winner, change your attitude towards the LAW – A message to all candidate attorneys, paralegals, trainees and students
11 Jan 2021
In my transit journey of leaving a fraternity I had initially studied for and choosing to study law at 24, I have become versed with the idea that the greatest impact our careers can have is not in the moments where greatness begins, but what is most paramount, is what happens before we get to the top. It is the hard grinding work that happens in the interim that sets precedent for our successful careers.
It is in fact our ability to live out the mundane and minuscule tasks in which we are entrusted with during our training that establishes the footprint of the level of dexterity we obtain in our respective fields one day.
We often read articles written by experts who structure their advice on the emphasis of struggle being the necessary antidote for success. Although true to some extent, this approach has seen many, particularly in the law fraternity, leaving practice to either join less stressful corporate environments or to start their own ventures.
The legal industry globally is one of the most mentally and emotionally challenging. This article seeks to give advice to students like myself on how to commit to their growth whilst reassuring that they remember the importance of prioritizing one’s mental health, so we can be the first generation of lawyers to add the “human element” to the law. So how do we do that? There is no linear approach, but I can very well guarantee you that the right attitude and a will to win will be the components that determine how far you go.
The study of law is long and arduous, you go through years of studying and practical training and you think it is all going to end one day, but it does not. By pursuing the law, you inadvertently sign up to being a student for the rest of your life and the law is constantly developing. I suffered from imposter syndrome for the first few weeks of being in a law firm environment. Having worked within inhouse-counsel at a corporate environment I quickly learnt that practice was totally different, and I had a lot of learning and unlearning to do. Mentally this was challenging. One of the first things we all would like to do when starting a new job is to prove that we were worth the investment and that our bosses made the right call.
Below are all the things that I have learnt thus far and the methods that have not only aided my growth but have help me mentally during the course of this year. I can only hope that this will be the fuel that encourages you to keep going, to appreciate the little things and to fall in love with not only the end -product, but the journey:
- If you have a desire to be the best attorney or the best in your respective field, don’t be too concerned about the money or the title, your first goal should be the transformation of your mind and character. Make sure the two align with where you are trying to go and level of greatness you would like to achieve.
- Take initiative, just because you are an intern or trainee it does not mean that you have to get told what to do at all times. I constantly try to move past my comfort zone and get more involved, even when I know that I am not that clued up about a specific task – that’s how you learn.
- Ask questions! Most partners have an open-door policy that allows for you to engage them with any of your questions! Use it! And if you can, find a mentor who you are comfortable directing your questions to, and if you cannot find one within your working environment – find one outside of it.
- Have a growth mindset, envision, who and what you want to be in the next few years and actively work towards being that person through continuous learning.
- Focus on skills acquisition, but also value and embrace the boring and tedious and be fully present. Do you want to know what a nightmare is? Try messing up pagination of large documents and then having to repeat the process all over again. It’s a disaster but understanding the importance of this little but tedious task makes you realize that as mundane as you may think paginating documents may be, this process plays a very pivotal role in hearings and court proceedings. Do not overlook the small tasks, concentrated practice overtime cannot fail to produce results.
- Thicken your skin & Learn the detachment between your ego and your work and receive feedback with a positive attitude and use it as fuel to improve.
- Take responsibility for your own learning, learn to recognise your limitations, and constantly work towards improving them. I have found myself in various ruts and I have mentally prepared myself for more ruts to come. Make mistakes but get up and learn from them.
- Trust the process. It takes time and you need to realize that your teachers also had to invest a lot of time into what they can do. Be patient with yourself and push through the pain and frustrations. Do not give up simply because you feel that you do not know enough, that is what learning is all about.
- Don’t be nice to yourself, and here’s what I mean by that. I am extremely hard on myself, and I have the ability to recognise when I am not performing at my optimum. A level of self-awareness is required here. You need to be able to notice your own shortcomings and mistakes. You never want to get to a place where you are complacent. The same can be applied at any level of your career but is especially important during your training. Go against the tendency to lose focus, but also leave room to look at failures as learning opportunities.
- Some people know exactly which practice area they want to go into whilst studying and some, like myself, prefer not to follow a linear path, and this is why firms rotate candidate attorneys. You need to learn and gain exposure to as many different practice areas and skills before choosing your specialty. Take your time choosing an area.
- To learn you have to let go of the fear of submitting and accept knowledge through trial and error. Our teachers are further ahead in our fields than we are, and their positions are not due to luck, but are based on their dedication, skills, and knowledge. Napoleon Hill had a whole team of great figures from the past he would turn to for suggestion (Hill and Stone, 1961). Make use of their acquired knowledge.
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Wishing everyone, including myself, all the best as we continue to learn in the next coming year!
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