Sara G. Neill
BAMSL President, 2019-20
Shareholder, Capes Sokol
Originally published in the November 2019 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. View in the archives.
As usual, before beginning to write this column I stared at a blank computer screen for at least an hour. Meanwhile, my husband, Tom, sat next to me and commented that our kitchen ceiling appeared to be caving in.
"Perhaps a squirrel is living above the ceiling," he speculated. I was not at all phased by his comment. "Better a squirrel than a bat," I thought.
We have recently had some bats make their way into our home. If you have never been relaxing on the couch with your family watching Chris Farley's classic comedy "Tommy Boy" and had a bat swoop over your head at lightning speed, you have not lived.
In September, BAMSL hosted its annual "Welcome to the Bar" event for attorneys recently admitted to the Missouri Bar. The Hon. Stephen Clark of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri graciously welcomed the new attorneys in his courtroom, provided them with some sage advice, and then everyone headed to happy hour at the Missouri Athletic Club.
As usual, BAMSL provided me with a nametag with a bright blue presidential ribbon attached. I am not sure if the ribbon had anything to do with it, but several of the new attorneys I met asked whether I had any advice for them for a successful career in law. I happily shared some of my thoughts.
For those of you who are new attorneys and could not make the event, here is some of my advice:
- Whether you are working for a law firm, the government, a judge, or some other employer, this is the time to go above and beyond to prove yourself. Work hard. Volunteer to stay late and come in over the weekend. If you have a billable hour requirement, exceed it.
"Show your colleagues you are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed and exceed their expectations."
Your outstanding grades and class rank may have helped you get the job, but those things become much less important (arguably, irrelevant) in the real world.
- Avoid spending all of your time holed up in your office. Make time to get to know your colleagues. Get to know your contemporaries—bond with them, but do not compete. You are in this together. Invite the senior partners in your firm or the seasoned attorneys you are working with to lunch or to grab a cup of coffee. Let them mentor you. You will learn a lot and you will be on their good side—experienced lawyers enjoy mentoring new attorneys and like to be asked.
- Stop to ask questions. If you are invited to attend a meeting with a new client, a pitch for new business, a court appearance, or a real estate closing, be engaged and take notes. Afterwards, meet with the attorney who invited you along and show him or her you are interested and want to learn. A few questions will go a long way.
- Start building your legal network. Stay in touch with your law school classmates and make sure you have their contact information. Get together with them for lunch or coffee regularly. Regularly might be one-two times a year—that is OK. Attend legal and community events. When you meet new people, connect with them on LinkedIn, put their info in your contacts, and attempt to stay in touch with them. Someday these people will send you clients.
- Get involved in at least one bar association. This is a great way to get to know other lawyers who have similar interests and areas of practice. Bar associations such as BAMSL offer pro bono and other volunteer activities, continuing education, networking events, and opportunities to write and speak on substantive legal topics. It is also really nice to walk into a legal event (there are a lot of them) on a Thursday or Friday evening and see so many friends who you will have met over the years. We have such a great legal community here in St. Louis. Someday you will really appreciate it.
- Take time for yourself. Make time to exercise, spend time with friends and family, and take vacations. You will enjoy your legal practice so much more if you allow yourself to take breaks. I personally have not yet figured out how to take a break from my phone and email, but I wish you much success.
- Find an area of law to work in that you find fulfilling and enjoyable. Life is too short to be miserable in your career. As lawyers, we work so hard and put in so many hours. It seems less like work when you truly enjoy what you are doing and are able to positively influence or change people's lives.