The original (and still the best) advice for law graduates

There are three elements to getting great career advice: first, (obviously) the advice has to be right. Second, it has to apply to the listener. Third, you have to follow it. That third part is surprisingly difficult.

When I started as a lawyer at Clayton Utz, someone gave me advice that I thought sounded pretty dumb. On reflection, it was undoubtedly right (check one), it was clearly relevant to me (check two), and I ignored it wholesale.

It goes like this:


Cliched. Pedestrian. Genius.

The law firm of YOU is the perfect lens.

Maybe you’ve heard it before and are groaning at the unoriginality. Maybe you’re hearing it for the first time and are skeptical like I was. But here’s 5 reasons why law graduates should adopt the law firm of YOU as your mantra:

1 Nobody knows who YOU are or if you’re good

“Sorry, what was your name again?”

You may have at GPA of 10.5, beaten Sweden in the International Dividing Fences Moot, and brokered world peace at the Model UNWCCAJA, but right now, I don’t care about that. Right now, you’re a kid in a suit with a nervous smile and an awkward laugh. It’s not your fault, but I might not give you stuff straight away because I’m busy and have other people I know and trust.

2 People choose YOU (or not)

Every manager either does the work themselves or delegates. For simple tasks, they’ve generally got the pick of the litter of eager juniors. You’re not special. YOU don’t get all the firm’s work. Make them pick you.

You’re very competitive on cost, but your legal skills suck. So how can you make that choice easy? General intelligence, willingness to learn, professionalism and dependability. Compete on those.

That said, ultra-competitiveness and sabotaging other young lawyers is fatal. It alienates you and trashes your reputation. Instead, pick the abundance mindset: if all juniors are high performers, the firm improves and the pie expands.

3. YOU possess a very particular set of skills

Can you speak on a women’s leadership panel? How about run to Court in 8 minutes? And can you please show me how to fix this goddamn printer?!

Remember – your legal skills suck. One day they will suck less, but will still suck more than the partners’. So while you’re learning, stand out with other skills that are valuable, rare and useful. A partner in a performance review once praised me for “finding things very quickly on the computer.” Sure, it’s not what you learned in six years of law school, but it’s an easy win for you.

4. I’m your client, not your mate

Australian business is casual, but keep it professional. Act like YOU would to a client. Be polite and check the ego at the door. Don’t make the YOU office a pigsty of used coffee cups, gym gear, and forgotten sweaters. Iron your shirt. Keep the banter minimal and brief. Smile.

Some people say to just copy your partner’s style. I disagree. Even if your partner has earned enough respect to be a bit messy and rough around the edges, you haven’t. YOU are a new firm.

5. YOU should be “safe set of hands”

The four sweetest words you can hear from a colleague are “leave it with me”.  They’re even sweeter if you have faith that “it” will be done properly and quickly. The ultimate “safe hands” test is whether giving this to you will save me time. If I can do the job faster and cheaper, your hands look unsteady.

But what about those sucky legal skills? Do you freak out when I get something that I just can’t do? I had a partner explain this to me very well: “The thing about X, is when I give her something, either (a) she does it really well and on time, or (b) she comes back early and says she doesn’t understand and I explain further. Either way, it’s safe with her.”

What do you think of the “law firm of YOU” model? Even better, what would your sign on the door say? Get in touch or comment below.

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