Q: I’m starting a new legal job soon, and I want to make sure I get off on the right foot. How can I make a positive impression during the first few weeks?
A: You’re absolutely correct about the importance of making a good first impression. Your boss and colleagues will be paying attention to how much you know, how you conduct yourself and whether you can handle the pressure of working in their law firm or legal department. Some employers consider the first month a trial period. If you do well, you become a full-fledged member of the team. But if you falter, you may find yourself looking for another legal job sooner than later. The following tips can help ensure you stay on the right trajectory.
1. Learn names quickly. One of the best ways to make a good first impression is to greet your new colleagues properly by remembering who they are right away. This can be a daunting task in a large firm, so make physical or mental notes during introductions and study the staff directory.
2. Have an open mind. As a newcomer, your role will be to quickly integrate yourself into an unfamiliar workplace. Your new employer will have a different culture, communication style and set of unwritten rules from what you’re used to. Be flexible, appreciate the differences and go with the flow.
3. Be curious. The first month is the time to ask lots of questions — about the firm, its values and your new colleagues. Most people enjoy imparting their wisdom to the new hire, and your colleagues will be flattered when you seek out their opinions and advice. But don’t get embroiled in office politics, as you don’t want to gain a reputation as a gossip or workplace climber.
4. Speak up (wisely). You were hired because you impressed the interviewer with your expertise and legal acumen, so start contributing right away. Pay attention during team meetings and propose helpful and thoughtful ideas. If the firm is overwhelmed with in-house eDiscovery, suggest that management look into working with an outside vendor you’re familiar with. But refrain from being critical, as that can create a negative impression.
The first month of a new legal job is an exciting time of discovery and learning. Using this honeymoon period wisely to cement your reputation as a motivated, inclusive and savvy team player can create a positive ripple effect that stays with you for your entire tenure at the firm.