How can I learn my job?
September 15, 2008 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm an attorney. My workplace has little or no formal training. The only time I learn things is when I do things wrong. Are there ways for me to avoid learning everything the hard way?

I work for a small law firm. The partners have little interest in training me, but are more than happy to berate me when something goes wrong.

To compound the problem, there really isn't any sort of a centralized base of knowledge. Each attorney makes up their own procedures and runs with them.

I've tried to read the local rules and the statutes for each jurisdiction we deal with, but I still seem to mess things up from time to time. Short of asking the partners or a fellow attorney every time I don't know something, is there a way for me to get caught up to speed here?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Generally, asking the fellow attorney is the way to do it. The partner's secretary is a good source of information about how the particular attorney likes things done. When you say each attorney makes up their own procedures, I assume you mean for internal things (since there are state and local rules, as you mention, for actual procedural things). I can't think of any way other than asking them or someone they work with for you to understand how their procedures work. Maybe going through old files.

Sometimes, it helps to call the court chambers if you aren't sure about something procedural, but that depends on the situation.

You may also want to look into formal mentoring situations run through your local or state bar association.

Last week, a law school classmate of mine (one I haven't spoken to since law school) called me with a procedural question related to my state. I was happy to help him.

Also, don't make the same mistake twice.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:48 AM on September 15, 2008

You're probably doing this already, but I learn a huge amount from the continuing ed in my field. You'll end up the expert in whatever areas you focus on.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:02 AM on September 15, 2008

I agree that asking is the best way to do this. When I was practicing in a firm, I'd always cover my ass by asking. The other way is simply pulling the rules, laws and regulations first, then moving on to case law and drafting yourself a memo containing the applicable law from the get go.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 AM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, I swear by Mauet's Pretrial. Just set up a checklist based on the things he does. I do it on Time Matters and it works wonders.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2008

Do you guys have paralegals? You should ask them.
posted by onepapertiger at 10:51 AM on September 15, 2008

don't overlook your local bar association. sometimes they have mentoring programs for young attorneys. cles are also really helpful. I've worked in small firms and unfortunately you do have to be proactive on training yourself. one thing that I've found helpful are listservs through a local or specialized bar association. It's a nice way to get quick feedback from multiple attorneys on thorny issues. Your local trial attorneys association probably has a listserv. The listservs also provide a database of questions from attorneys with the same problem.
posted by bananafish at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2008

Be sweet to the people behind the desks at courts. Ask them about the purely ministerial procedures for filing -- how many copies, &c. You'd be amazed how much easier that will make your life.

You'd also be amazed at the boneheaded mistakes that grown-ass lawyers make every day. Whatever else you do, be aware that you're not alone in that.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:02 PM on September 15, 2008

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