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Robert Sing Article: "How to Survive and Thrive as a New Lawyer in the COVID Era."

On Oct. 22, 2019, I was officially admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania after passing the July 2019 bar exam. Little did I know that less than five months later, a global pandemic would completely change how law firms across the country would operate. We were in the middle of our first trial that I actively got to help with when everything was shut down. I was finally seeing with my own eyes just how intense, emotional and demanding a trial could be. Suddenly, the practice of law came to an abrupt and grinding halt. The day that the shutdown order went into effect, I remember packing as much as I could fit into a Bankers Box so that I could work remotely for two weeks. Turns out I should have packed a much bigger box.

Fast forward to today, and the world has changed in many ways since March 2020. Although there has been relative success in transitioning to working remotely, it still has its downsides and differences from traditionally working in the office. There are likely numerous new lawyers out there that have wondered similar things as I have over these past few months: How can I help my firm during these difficult times? What can I do to learn to be a lawyer while working remotely? Was being a lawyer pre-COVID really all that different from being a lawyer post-COVID? I asked several lawyers that have been admitted to practice law over the past year for tips for new lawyers to help them get started at their new jobs. Some of the lawyers I asked were hired at their current firms pre-COVID, and some of them were hired at their current firms during COVID. There are several recurrent tips that I was given that, pre-COVID or post-COVID, can help any new lawyer survive and thrive:

  • Physically, mentally, and emotionally take care of yourself. Being a lawyer can be stressful. The work we do literally changes people’s lives. It’s high stakes. It’s demanding. It’s time-consuming. It can take a lot out of you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Be sure to take time to decompress and relax. This can be especially challenging when working remotely because there is no separation between the “office” and home, but make a concentrated effort to take time for yourself. This will help keep you motivated, energized, and on your “A game.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You don’t magically know how to be a lawyer after passing the bar exam. In fact, there are attorneys that have been practicing for over 30 years that will tell you they have never stopped learning how to be a lawyer. Asking questions can save you time and energy, both of which are valuable resources. What might be thirty minutes worth of research by you could be a quick five minute email from a partner, senior attorney or even paralegal.
  • Listen to as many relevant CLEs as your time and budget allow. This kind of ties into the previous point about not being afraid to ask questions. New lawyers have so much to learn and CLEs can help expedite that learning. You also get to hear from well-respected members of the legal community that are at the pinnacle of the profession. The written materials that usually accompany CLEs are also valuable resources that you can file away for later use should you need them. If you get really lucky, you might leave the CLE with a case cite or two directly on point to a pleading you are working on.
  • Keep your foot on the gas. You should always be trying to get ahead on your work. Your list of assignments and responsibilities will continuously grow and you never know when something that needs to be addressed immediately will pop up. To repurpose the motto of HYDRA, Captain America’s most persistent protagonist, “If you finish one assignment, two more shall take its place.” You don’t want to find yourself slipping even a little bit behind. It’s much easier and less stressful to get ahead on your work than to catch up once you’re behind.
  • Continue to build professional relationships. Like most things, COVID has made this tip more difficult to follow. Nevertheless, it is still important to build professional relationships and grow your network. I was able to write this article because of my connections with former classmates and coworkers. Professional relationships come in different forms and all of them are important. Forming interoffice relationships with the attorneys, paralegals and support staff that you work with on a daily basis is crucial to your initial success. They help you learn the ins and outs of how your firm operates every day. These are the first people you will work with in the very beginning of your legal career. It’s important to learn as much from these people as you can from day one. It’s also important to form professional relationships with other lawyers and members of the various bar associations and organizations you will be a part of. Even in the age of COVID, there are various virtual networking and informational events you can attend. One example is the Philadelphia Bar Association state civil litigation section’s virtual town hall. Every two weeks, this virtual town hall provides important updates on the COVID protocols and procedures being implemented in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. This is just one of many virtual events that young lawyers can participate in.

2020 has been a very unique and challenging year and it’s not over yet. However, no matter what else happens this year, whether it be the continuing pandemic, the pending invasion of murder hornets or the current occupation of spotted lanternflies, I hope these tips can help out fellow young lawyers that feel like this year has upended their lives. These tips came from young lawyers that secured employment before the COVID shutdown as well as those that have secured employment since the COVID shutdown. Regardless of what’s going on in the world, young lawyers can utilize these tips in 2020 and beyond to survive and thrive.

Robert T. Sing is a catastrophic injury attorney with Duffy + Fulginiti in Philadelphia. Learn more about his work at duffyfirm.com.