Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Trivial Interests: The Mystical Key to Work-Life Balance

Looking back at my last blog post, one thought comes to mind: Boy was I ever wrong!

I started my summer internship on a tense and stressed note, trying to maintain a heightened level of professionalism and forcing myself to believe that there was no life outside of my career.

Then, it all changed the day the managing partner told me that the life outside of law is what mattered more to my career than focusing nonstop on the law, itself. He told me that I needed to develop, what he called, "trivial interests".

"What are trivial interests?" I asked.

"Trivial interests are those interests or hobbies that have no valuable or useful purpose in life."

As I got to know the partners more, I realized that they were such good lawyers because they had lives outside of the firm. One of the partners enjoyed travelling abroad with his wife, while volunteering with underprivileged kids in Marin County during the school year. Another partner spent every conceivable moment with his teenage sons, even during office hours, where they would be sitting in his office arguing the meaning of God. An associate volunteered with Big Brothers.

And then I came to learn- If we, as attorneys, spend our spare time focusing on law, then we risk becoming terribly one-dimensional. In time, we can burn out much faster and we miss out on the small, trivial interests that life has to offer. It's the law of diminishing returns. The harder we try to be the best, the less likely we will ever be the best because there will always be some new height to reach and a higher bar to cross.

So the lesson I take away from the attorneys at this firm is simple- make time for the trivial interests that bring you joy, because the law will always be there tomorrow.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

First Day in Court

We conquer several major firsts in our lives. Although some of the first seem intimidating, once we conquer our fears and accomplish the task, in time, our fears ease. In time, not overnight.

My first day in court was two years into practicing law. Actually, I take that back. My first say in court was before I was even licensed to practice, but at the time, I sat in the back of the courtroom and performed last minute research.

My first time appearing before a judge was in Santa Rosa Bankruptcy Court. I began working for a bankruptcy attorney and my first day on the job was also my first day in court. She called me over the weekend to tell me about a motion I needed to argue on Monday. I saw the motion for the first time on Sunday night. I was to drive two hours to Santa Rosa the next day, to argue a motion I had only seen the night before. To add salt to the wound, I was to argue it alone, without my supervising attorney there.

In the end, the motion was granted. But the entire courtroom knew this was my first time. For starters, I checked in with the Trustee instead of the Court Clerk. The Trustee was kind enough to direct me to the Court Clerk. Then, when my line item was called, I spoke before I got to the podium. Finally, I had no clue that I would be arguing the motion to the Trustee, first. I guess Santa Rosa does things differently. So I was not prepared to state the reason for the motion, not was I even aware that they were calling my motion.

Talk about trial by fire. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Day on the Job at a Firm

I am starting this week on a temorary placement at a respected law firm. I take with me the wisdom from previous experiences.

And in taking my sucesses and my failures in stride, I came up with a list of what to do and what not to do when entering the legal workforce.

1. Do not underestimate the value of your appearance! Looks matter. Although many attorneys will say that they don't care what you wear to work, so long as you do the job right, there definitely is a certain stigma that is attached to you by way of your appearance. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have seen judges look with disdain at attorneys who wore bright colors and flashy shoes to court. I have seen the disparity in the way I get treated when I wear a suit, a dress or jeans.

My advice- wear muted colors and limit your accessories. Brown, biege, gray or navy-blue work very well. The image you want to get across is that you care more about your work than your clothes. Of course, you could easily accomplish this by wearing jeans and a t-shirt to work. too, but jeans and a T-shirt scream the word "slacker!".

2. Do not socialize unecessarily! You are there to work. It's understandable that you might want to build relationships and strengthen your bridges at your new firm, but there will always be time for that. Your priority should really be competence. You need to get the job done. For the first while, skip lunch and eat at your desk if you must. Don't stop at the offices of others and strike up conversation on the first day. You will have plenty of time to do that once you have proven yourself. For the first while, it will be the quality of your work and not your personality that will get you more points.

3. Go in early and work late. Get there before most of the other people in the office do and leave later than the rest. You don't necessarily need to be the first person in the office nor the last one to leave, but look at your timings relative to everyone else and be a notch more conservative than the rest.

4. Pay attention to the quality of your work! Your work will be the most important factor in making your first impression. Take down your assignments with a note-pad and work hard. Stay focused and ask questions if you don't know what you are doing. Also, try to gage your employer's expectations of the assignment and if you can, try to get hold of a sample of what he/she wants from you.

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