Law Career Development
Professionalism is defined as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Like many things in life, the absence of professionalism is usually more noticed than its presence. But who notices this lack of professionalism? The simple answer is everyone.
Regardless of whether it is a supervisor, counselor, or staff member, people are going to talk. Your name will circulate negatively, and your reputation will be sealed with your first impression. Your name and reputation is your most important asset in your professional career as an attorney, but it is very fragile. Once lost, it will be hard to regain.
Professionalism is a skill to be learned and cultivated, a skill that is learned from our observations, interactions, and experiences with the community at large.
Time is Valuable So Make it a Priority
Time is valuable in our profession as lawyers. Showing up late or not showing up to work or a meeting will indicate that you are careless and unreliable. You are not only wasting your time, but the time of others.
Students who cancel their meetings with their counselors last minute are not only wasting their counselor’s time, but the time of another student. By making an appointment with a counselor, you are responsible for showing up so that the counselor can help you with your needs. By not showing up, you are taking the spot that another student could have utilized. Every day, students are making appointments to be advised both academically and professionally. By cancelling appointments last minute or not showing up, you are taking that opportunity away from another student, not once but twice. The first appointment remains unutilized, and the second appointment is made to reschedule the one you missed.
How would you feel if the same thing happened to you? You prepared for an interview, but the employer canceled; or you attended a networking event to meet one particular employer, but the employer did not attend. Most likely, you will feel like you wasted your time.
At the current Extern Networking Event at Golden Gate University School of Law, a student attended the event with the sole intention of meeting one particular employer. That student hung around all night only to be informed that the employer would not be attending the event. Words cannot describe how disappointed the student was to hear that the employer was unable to attend.
These are the things that law students need to think about when trekking upon their path of becoming attorneys. Attorneys are going to have endless appointments, and it is our responsibility to schedule meetings, trials, depositions, etc., so make it a habit now to keep track of these appointments. As such, make appointments only with the intention of attending; otherwise, cancel in advance if you know you have a conflict.
Own Up to Your Mistakes
Do not make excuses or hide from your mistakes. Hiding from your mistakes will only take you so far and will eventually catch up to you. Instead, take ownership of your mistakes and do your best to correct them. As attorneys, we are in the business of correcting the mistake of others by bringing justice to court. But before we can help others, we have to be upfront about our own mistakes.
Be Polite to EVERYONE
Regardless of whether it is a partner or the receptionist, treat everyone with the same respect you would give the managing partner at the law firm. You may think that the managing partner would not talk to the receptionist, but that does not give you cause to be snippy to the receptionist. As an outsider, you do not know the dynamics of a law firm or what relationship structures have been built. Stay on the safe side, and be respectful to everyone you meet. As the old saying goes, treat others the way you want to be treated.
Before law school, I worked as a receptionist at a reputable employment law firm. At one point, the firm was looking to hire an associate so there was a healthy stream of potential candidates coming in and out of the office. After the partners interviewed each candidate, there was always one partner who would ask my opinion about the candidate. “How did that candidate treat you?” or “What did you think of that candidate?” the partner would ask me. I would give the partner the byplay of my encounter with the candidate and give him my honest opinion.
Opinions matter regardless of who it may come from. It is a small community, so be mindful of the way you act towards others.
Positivity is Key to Success
Being positive is key to being successful. Everyone will have days when they are feeling down or grumpy, but do not bring that attitude to work. Being negative or a grouch at work will only bring everyone down and reflect poorly on you. You do not want to be the one who is causing a drop in morale, so make the best of the situation! If you think that something can be improved, find a way to make it happen.
As attorneys, we ARE going to have our ups and downs, but we cannot let that affect our work. Doing so is equivalent to asking for a malpractice suit. As attorneys, it is in our line of work to find the best solution for our clients and zealously defend them. As hard as it may be to do, separate your personally feelings from your work life. Doing so will also help with balancing your work life and protect your reputation as an attorney.