Monday, November 19, 2012

Tips for first year law students - build your "technical" skills

The blog Attorney@Work has started a new 3-part series on advice to first year law students. In the first installment, Goodwin Procter's director of professional development Scott Westfahl talks about the need for students to build their "technical" and legal skills.

Here are specific things Westfahl says associates can do to develop their legal and technical skills.

  • Seek out evaluations. Young attorneys need to pay attention, ask questions and be proactive about seeking out feedback on their work. Don’t wait for your formal evaluation to see how you’re performing or even for a senior associate or a partner to offer their assessment more informally. Be direct and ask them what you’re doing right and what you need to improve. In the 1980s New York City Mayor Ed Koch constantly asked his constituency a question that became his slogan: “How’m I doin’?” Using your own voice and line of inquiry, you should be asking the same thing.
  • The big picture is everything. Show interest in the client and the legal problem beyond the narrow scope of the assignment you’ve been given. That way, when there’s the opportunity to talk to the senior associate or partner with whom you’re working, you can engage him or her. “Get more context about the substantive area of law and how it applies to the clients’ problems,” Westfahl says. “Now that you’ve gone beyond legal doctrinal study in law school, you’re applying that doctrine and you want to understand the broader context.”
  • Stay ahead of the game. Once you gain this context, you need to anticipate what’s coming next in a case or matter. “Partners often say, ‘I look for the associate who tries to think two steps ahead,’” Westfahls says. “’They don’t always get it right but I want them to try to anticipate what I need and what the clients need, and I really appreciate that.’” It’s these associates, he adds, who get more of the coaching and mentoring time because the partners feel it’s worth it. And the associates’ development of technical skills is accelerated in that kind of learning environment.

Continue reading here.


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