Thompson: Spilling the ‘TEA’ — tips for young lawyers

November 1, 2017
thompson-chasity-mug.jpg Thompson

By Chasity Thompson

The transition from law school to life as a lawyer can be a very exciting time in your life. There are so many topics to consider and avenues to explore: How will I establish and build client relationships? How will I collect payments? How will I manage employees? What tools will help me manage my practice? How much insurance will I need to protect myself? How may I use technology to be efficient in my practice? These “unknowns” may leave you feeling overwhelmed and in need of direction. A sip of TEA can help provide some initial guidance.

Why TEA? As the season changes and the temperature drops, a spot of tea always helps to warm the body and spirit. Spilling the tea is also a common reference for obtaining information and sharing secrets. Similarly, using my TEA approach can help new lawyers (and lawyers new to a different practice environment or career path) establish positive habits to succeed in their desired careers. TEA comes in different varieties. Seeking training opportunities, setting expectations, being actively engaged and enthusiastic, choosing to be positive, proactive and resilient, and implementing a plan of action can help. Here’s some TEA to help you get started.

(T) Training

Train with vision and intentional preparation. A common phrase encourages us to “stay ready so we don’t have to get ready.” Try to establish a vision for what you hope to accomplish. It may be to set goals for your practice or to decide who to approach to be your mentor. Whatever the goal, be thoughtful and intentional in your decisions, and work on strategies to effectively execute your plan. Do not be afraid to ask a trusted professional or mentor to review your plan or ideas and to provide suggestions to help you advance.

Train and develop skills. Take advantage of every chance to develop your skills. Seek opportunities to increase your knowledge in preferred areas of practice, business development skills, personal development, and learning the “business” of the legal practice. As a young lawyer, there are several opportunities to obtain scholarships to attend CLEs and conferences. Many are offered by various sections of the national, state and local bar associations. Also, the law school and other organizations may offer free CLE. What a wonderful opportunity to increase your knowledge base while meeting people who are working in areas where you have an interest.

Be flexible in your training. There is not a sole path to reach a desired outcome. People achieve goals in numerous ways. Someone else’s course may not be the best approach for you. Seek information from trusted resources and mentors, but do not be discouraged if your path may differ from someone else’s. One of the many wonderful reasons to have a law degree is its flexibility and the ability to apply critical thinking and other transferable skills in traditional and nontraditional positions.

Use resiliency tactics in your training. Life happens. Setbacks happen. Failure happens. When faced with adversity or unexpected circumstances, it is important to be resilient. Resiliency is powerful, and it gives us the strength to recover and overcome challenges. There may be days when our clients are uncooperative, our caseload seems insurmountable or our personal life challenges encroach on our professional time. We must find a way to bend, but not break. Surrounding yourself with positive thoughts and people can help you during those storms. Being solution-focused rather than internalizing the issue also will help. It is quite easy to lean toward negativity. I challenge you to think of positive ways to influence outcomes in your personal and professional environments instead. Your attitude toward a situation may change its outcome and how that situation could impact you for years to come. Learn strategies to be positive and resilient. It will be immensely helpful in your life.

Train with a mentor. You do not have all the answers, nor are you expected to as a new lawyer. Many have traveled the road that you now travel. Seek guidance from seasoned and peer mentors to help you navigate potential challenges you might face. To ask for help is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it shows courage and wisdom. People want to help you. Be open to suggestions and resources.

(E) Expectations, engagement, energy, emotional intelligence, exceptional service

Set your expectations in a positive manner. As lawyers, we are trained to spot issues and solve problems for our clients. Think of positive ways to influence outcomes in your personal and professional environments.

Establish a cadence of exceptional service and work. You continue to build your reputation with each interaction and assignment. Take time to learn the expectation that your client, supervisor, etc. has for the task that you are assigned to accomplish. Meet and exceed the expectation with your responsiveness and work product.

Engage with others. Make the most of your moments through active engagement. Try to increase your network each week. Take time to step away from your desk and talk with people. Through formal, and often informal settings, you can grow your network tremendously. Think of ways you can add value to someone else’s life. In the process, they will also add value to your life through resources and friendship.

Exercise emotional intelligence in personal interactions. Set the example of the climate where you can thrive. Remember etiquette. It’s ok to say “please” and “thank you.” Being polite to colleagues, counsel, clients and court staff does not make you appear any more vulnerable than if you displayed an unpleasant disposition. In fact, a positive attitude can help you advance your goals and develop positive relationships.

Exude positive energy. There are many ways we can react to situations. In most cases, we cannot control the actions of others. We can, however, control how we respond to actions. Having positive energy can help us connect with others and accomplish our goals. Try to maintain positive energy through exercise, technology time-outs, practicing mindfulness techniques or engaging in activities that restore joy and order into your world.

(A) Action

Develop a Plan of Action. Create a plan for advancement. Have at least one person review it and serve as an accountability partner. Write down your goals and review them. Develop manageable and measurable benchmarks to help you meet these goals. Identify people who can be resources to help you execute your plan. Your action plan is a living document. You may have to adjust it periodically to accommodate life and interest changes. Include short-term and long-term goals to help you think about the future. Think about how you will evaluate success. Repeat.

You can be successful in your pursuits. Use TEA time to think about your life direction and goals. Make the most of your opportunities. Ask for help when needed. Be helpful to others. Strive to live well and be well in your personal life and professional career. Go ahead, sip. There’s always time for T.E.A.•


Chasity Thompson is assistant dean in the Office of Professional Development at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The opinions expressed are those of the author.