10 lessons I’ve learned from my first 10 years as a lawyer


20 February 2019 marked my 10 year anniversary as a lawyer. For me it’s a significant milestone so I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on 10 lessons I’ve learned working in the law during the past 10 years.

# 10 Be an observer
I’ve learnt the most from observing those around me. Whether it was a barrister during a hearing, a partner during a client conference or my peers, there is so much that can be learned just by observing others. It’s this form of on-the-job learning that has helped me to find ways of improving my own personal and technical skills in ways that you won’t learn from books. 

# 9 Have a support network
There’s no doubt that being a lawyer is a challenging job. Difficult and demanding clients, multiple urgent deadlines or just general office politics, having friends who ‘get it’ and have a shared appreciation for office related meme humour goes a long way. And more than that, having a supportive family that understands the demanding nature of the job can you see through some of the toughest times. 

# 8 Be curious about personal development
I’ve always been interested in personal development and how it can help me to grow as a lawyer. There is more to life than working in a cubicle and staring at a computer screen all day and learning to improve yourself will ultimately help you to attract the right type of jobs, clients and work and give you a much more fulfilling career.

# 7 Set Boundaries
I love to chat and help others. If a co-worker is under pressure and needs help, I will be the first to put my hand up. But this has worked against me because my natural inclination is to stop what I’m doing to help others even while my work deadlines are ticking away. I still will always offer a helping hand or make the time to listen but I now know that not every problem needs to be helped to the detriment of my own workload. This also extends to setting boundaries for anything that has a negative influence on your work environment.  

# 6 Say ‘yes’
I wholly support the ‘say yes to everything’ attitude in the early years of your career. Want to work on a criminal brief? Yes! Will you do this Court appearance? Yes! Can you be a volunteer on this committee? Yes! It helped me to gain an understanding of what areas of law I wanted to practice (criminal law was not for me) and helped me learn new things that gave me a greater perspective in my work. These days my ‘say yes’ attitude is usually followed by ‘I just need to see if someone can look after the kids’!

# 5 Take pride in your work
This isn’t about being egotistical about your work and not finding fault. It’s about taking time and knowing that each advice, email, letter or telephone call was done to the best of your ability. 

# 4 Learn to love the process
There is a lot about the process of being a lawyer that is not ‘enjoyable’. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not like an episode of ‘Suits’ with people walking around a paperless office, barely taking the time to sit down at a computer. The reality is that there are often extended periods where we are required to do the parts of the job we love the least and its important to be ok with that part too. 

# 3 Accept that mistakes will happen
Nothing will give you a better indication of a persons integrity than how they deal with mistakes. Mistakes will happen. But when they do, owning them and then working on a resolution is the only way to learn and grow.  

# 2 Never stop learning
When you’re neck deep in client work it can be difficult to set aside time to expand your learning. And I’m not alone, taking into account that 90% of the continuing learning programs are held in the last 8 weeks of the year and have record attendance by other busy lawyers. All the more reason to focus on regular learning not only for technical skills but ways to make life and work easier.

# 1 Be true to yourself
And finally, the biggest lesson I’ve learned (and possibly the one that has taken me the longest) is to be true to yourself. It’s easy for our emotions to be influenced by our environment. And I’ve been in my fair share of uncomfortable discussions with co-workers and supervisors. But the discomfort of a difficult conversation will fade away much quicker than not having been true to your beliefs.

It’s been an incredible 10 years and I’m ready for the next 10 and beyond!

Written by: Emilia Cardillo


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