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Law Office Management

May 2, 2014

Q&A: What advice would you give to a new attorney?

Five legal vets offer practical wisdom to young lawyers.

Rupa Singh

There are four things I would like to have known when I was starting. First, nothing stands out like merit. Understand your assignments and projects, be thorough, accessible, and responsible to whoever assigned you the work. Be respectful of deadlines. If you start to get repeat assignments you've won over your first critic -- your boss, your internal client.

Second, don't be afraid of the billable hour. Just remember, you control it, not the other way around. And remember that no one is going to be upset if it takes you less time to do the work. If you keep those things in mind, you'll win over your second-most important critic: your external client.

Third, figure out not only what you are good at but the intersection of that and what you can sell. That's when you can figure out what you really love, and that's when you win over your third most important critic: yourself.

Finally, take all advice with a grain of salt, including this advice. Don't second guess yourself too much and don't check your common sense at the door.

Rupa Singh is a staff attorney at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Diego. She is the vice chair of the San Diego County Commission on the Status of Women.

Brett Jolley

First, I would advise a new attorney to get involved in the community. This can mean attending events sponsored by the local bar association, serving on the board of an organization you're passionate about, or joining a service club. And do it well: Connections made while doing good work in volunteer positions can pay dividends down the road.

Second, new attorneys should take a special interest in assignments from their superiors. If a partner asks you to research a particular issue about jurisdiction, don't look at it as an isolated task. Ask questions about the case, try to get a big-picture sense of what's going on, and offer to assist with more related matters.

Third, know that you will make mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes so that you don't make them again.

Brett Jolley is a shareholder in the Stockton law firm of Herum\Crabtree\Suntag where he represents public and private clients in land use, environmental, and appellate matters. He currently serves as President of the North Stockton Rotary.

Amy Ortner

Sometimes, common sense gets lost in the shuffle of Socratic questioning, competition, and Bar review. Too often, I have encountered attorneys who have forgotten that being a good lawyer means more than "knowing the law"; it also means being a considerate practitioner. With that in mind:

First, get your arms around an issue before you ask a question of a more seasoned colleague. At worst, your discussion of the issue with that colleague will be more informed. At best, you will answer the question yourself and impress the colleague with your resourcefulness.

Second, proofread everything! Then proof it again. Nothing says you don't care better than misspellings or botched references.

Finally, command respect by being respectful. You may disagree with everything an adversary is saying. It is true that people always remember the counsel who made everyone uncomfortable and angry, but in my experience, the kinder advocate gets the second call from a client and a referral from the adversary.

Amy B. Ortner is senior counsel in Loeb & Loeb's Los Angeles office. Her practice focuses on a variety of transactional entertainment matters with a particular emphasis on the music industry.

Jocelyn Burton

Reputation is really important. I started my own practice after having worked in government and at a couple of law firms, and people from those jobs referred business to me all the time.

Be honest with your clients, opposing counsel, and the court. If you establish yourself as a straight shooter, people will take what you say more seriously. My goal in the courtroom is for the judge to think of me in such a way that if I told her the sky was purple, she'd think for ten seconds that I was right.

And finally, always follow through and do the best work you can. If you're a brand new associate and someone asks for a draft, they don't want a draft. You should produce as close to a final version as you can.

Jocelyn Burton is the principal at Burton Employment Law, which provides employment counseling and litigation services. She is based in Oakland.

Michael Ludwig

Always do A+ work. Whether you're working for a small client or a big one, all of your work should be the best product you can produce. You never know what somebody is going to consider representative of you. Younger attorneys tend to pick and choose which assignments to devote the most attention to, but you can't afford to let up even once.

Always strive to get along with opposing counsel. Clients have their differences, but attorneys don't need to mirror that.

And, lastly, consider working for a smaller high-quality firm that might provide more early hands-on experience. I started out at a big firm, then worked at a small firm for eight years, and then came to Blank Rome. It used to be that attorneys were given time as their practice matured to try develop a business mindset, but now lawyers are expected to think this way from the outset of their careers. And I found it easier to develop business at the small firm.

Michael Ludwig is vice chair of Blank Rome's national labor and employment practice group in Los Angeles. He counsels employers on a range of issues, and represents them in all facets of the litigation process.

If you'd like to participate in our Q&A series, please send an email to

Riley Guerin

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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