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Top five tips for young lawyers from a barely young lawyer

By Renee Ross

Renee RossThe most important lessons I learned in my nearly 10 years of practice are as important to young lawyers as they are to my 5-year-old: What goes around comes around. Do your homework. Don’t cry over spilled milk. Relationships matter most. Eat your vegetables.

What goes around comes around: Civility matters.

As lawyers, we are asked to perform tasks under tight deadlines often with significant consequences. Our jobs are stressful. In my practice, I regularly encounter unhappy clients, angry opposing parties or offensive opposing counsels. I cannot fully understand the source of others emotional experiences, but I always try to remember to treat everyone with respect regardless of how I feel I am being treated. It is not only good practice, but it is also the right thing to do. Don’t forget to also treat courtroom staff with the same respect. Just as you talk to your staff, the judge talks to the clerk and bailiff, and how you treat them reflects on you.

Do your homework: Be prepared.

Review the file. Prepare your presentation. Read the relevant cases. Repeat. If you do not know what to expect in the courtroom, go and observe. Watch what other attorneys are saying and doing. Learn from their mistakes or by their example.

Find a mentor. Actually find several. Mentors have been invaluable to my development as a lawyer. I ask all the questions that I think are silly, and they often are perfectly appropriate. How long do you prepare for a deposition? How do you handle this type of case? What are your experiences with this judge? Countless lawyers have helped me and I am more than happy to help other young lawyers. If you do not have at least one mentor, find one.

Don’t cry over spilled milk: All problems have solutions.

One of my mentor’s favorite sayings is there is nothing you do that I can’t fix. I still don’t believe this is 100 percent true, but it sure makes me feel better. We all make mistakes. I have made mistakes and so will you. Have the courage to admit you have made a mistake and enlist the help you need to fix it.

Relationships matter most: Make connections.

I learned a lot in law school, but I did not learn networking. I thought networking entailed going to lawyer events and asking for a job. I was wrong. Networking really means relationship building. You engage in relationship building on a daily basis with your clients, your employer, opposing counsel, the court and your community. One of the most rewarding aspects of practicing law is the amazing relationships I have made. Now, networking is not about attending boring dinners, it is about spending time with friends. Make time to make friends.

Eat your vegetables: Take care of your health.

This is a stressful profession. When you solve client’s problems, you are taking care of them. Make sure to take care of yourself. Effective time management is critical to allow you to find time to exercise, spend with family or take vacations. Whatever helps you reduce stress, make sure you identify it and take the time to make it happen.

Renee Ross is a State Bar-certified family law specialist. She serves as special adviser for the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA). CYLA is the nation's largest association of young lawyers with more than 55,000 members. For more information about CYLA go to http://dnn-cyla.