Your image as a legal professional begins during law school. Law school peers, your professors, school administrators, and outside attorneys with whom you come into contact will form opinions about your character and work ethic based on how you act and what you say. Those opinions can positively or negatively affect your career in ways that you cannot anticipate. Classmates often have more say in the hiring processes of their employers than you might imagine, with some even selecting their replacement as they graduate or move on. Countless alumni have credited the fact that they were hard-working, collegial, and well-prepared in law school to direct benefits later in their career: receiving client referrals, being invited to apply to a position that was never posted, or receiving “insider” tips in advance of a job interview. The opposite is also true: students and alums will regularly retell stories of how they warned their firm against hiring the classmate they know to be “a total jerk,” or an “entitled slacker,” or a “party animal.”
Law students should be conscious of what they become known for – and here at “Hulston High” word travels fast. While we do not want to encourage students to become humorless androids, developing good judgment about what aspects of your life to share with your peers and mentors will benefit you throughout law school and the rest of your legal career.
1. Don’t dwell on your mistakes – So, you flubbed up majorly in trial practice today. Everyone makes mistakes, and although yours may be foremost in your mind, it is most likely of little interest to anyone else. The more you talk about it after the fact, the more power you give it. Try to look at it objectively so that you can learn what you can from the experience to improve next time, and then put it behind you.
2. Find the line between “good time” and “law student gone wild” – whether it is the intimate details of your love life or how much alcohol you consume, the more widely those details become known, the more they can get distorted or exaggerated, and the more likely that they will follow you throughout your career. Become known for your strong suits rather than the things you would rather forget.
3. Overly zealous advocate – Law school teaches persuasive arguing skills, but it is also a good time to learn about compromise and the art of friendly disagreement. Never rely on arguments that are discriminatory and do not make personal attacks on the people who disagree with you. Use a civil tone, treat others with respect, and know when to give it a rest. If you come across as a blowhard now, or as someone with extreme opinions on controversial issues, that is probably how you will be remembered 10 years from now.
4. Social Media Mess – if you think only your “friends,” “contacts,” or “followers” are seeing what you are putting online, think again. Social media can be a fantastic tool for building a network and advancing your career, but only if you use it appropriately. We regularly hear from employers who use social media to screen job applicants. Scrupulously protect your online image and treat social media as the public forum that it is.
5. The Golden Rule – no one wants to spend time with a person who is known for gossiping, complaining, shirking work, or delighting in others’ misfortune. Keeping a positive attitude, offering to lend a hand, being kind, considerate and reliable, and repeatedly demonstrating your competency will make you the type of professional others look up to, try to emulate, and can recommend without hesitation.