Avoid These 4 Common Mistakes When Starting a New Legal Job

By Jamy J. Sullivan, J.D.,
Robert Half 


First impressions count when you’re joining a new legal team. How you handle the early weeks in your role can set the tone for your entire tenure. This is true whether you’re a recent law school graduate, a veteran moving to a new organization or a seasoned paralegal climbing to the next rung on their career ladder. 
Of course, you know that you’re talented, professional and a great team player. Now all you have to do is prove this to your new managers and colleagues. To help you start on the right foot, here are a few common missteps to avoid. 

Don’t keep questions to yourself 
You can’t be expected to know everything on your first day, yet new hires are often tempted to stay quiet and observe. That’s great at times, but asking questions is a sign of confidence and self-awareness, not weakness. It shows your manager and colleagues that you’re determined to get things right and avoid mistakes that could damage your firm or legal department. If your new boss assigns you a mentor or onboarding buddy, seize every opportunity to learn the ropes from this person. That’s what they’re there for. 

Don’t do all the talking 
It’s just as important to know when to take a back seat. In meetings, you should expect to do more listening. Don’t feel like you have to pepper the speaker with questions to show you’re engaged and participating. Nonverbal signals like smiles and nods can work just as well — one reason why it’s important to turn on your camera during virtual meetings. 

Also, avoid talking about your last job unless it’s directly relevant to your current duties. If your memories are all positive, this will quickly start to grate on your new colleagues. If they’re all negative, your boss may wonder whether you’re really the loyal team player you claim to be. 

Don’t be a loner 
Much like law school, you’ll find the legal world is that rare combination of highly competitive and intensely collaborative. You’ll want to prove yourself to get that promotion and one day make partner or manager, but you can’t do it without teammates. 
So if there’s a birthday party on your first day, don’t be afraid to sing along as the candles get blown out. If there’s an opportunity to take part in a team-building exercise or pro bono community project, sign up. Interacting with colleagues outside your day-to-day routine will help you forge stronger working relationships. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself 
Managing large workloads is a challenge throughout the legal profession, but never so much as in the early weeks of a new job when you’re trying to please everybody. In your keenness to hit the ground running, you may end up volunteering for tasks and responsibilities that lie outside your job description or that more experienced colleagues are all too willing to delegate. 
A better approach to managing your workload is to master your core responsibilities first, and only then consider taking on more challenging tasks. Your boss wants you to succeed, and the way to impress them is by delivering quality work on time, not trying to be a hero and missing deadlines because you bit off more than you can chew.  
Finally, if you do make a mistake in your first few weeks on the job, don’t beat yourself up about it or, worse, try to hide the error from your manager. You were hired to work hard and add value to the firm or legal department, not to be perfect. Learn from your experiences, and it won’t be long before you’re the one helping new recruits ease into their new roles. 

Jamy J. Sullivan is executive director of the legal practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm. Robert Half offers contract, temporary and permanent placement solutions, and is the parent company of Protiviti®, a global consulting firm. Visit RobertHalf.com.