Right after earning my university degree, I enrolled in law school. Luckily, I became a lawyer at 25 years old. I was ready to conquer the legal profession and venture into litigation! Well, that’s what I thought until I had my first real ‘exposure’. That period of my professional life was so awkward, I wished there was a website containing only tips for new Filipino lawyers like me! So here, I came up with five tips that could maybe help you if you’ve just been admitted to the Philippine Bar – clueless and unmentored.
1. Invest in good corporate clothing.
First impressions count. If your clothing looks sloppy and cheap, your first few clients will most likely think that your service is also sloppy and cheap. As a new lawyer, you need to be able to exude that crisp, professional, and smart aura to earn your client’s trust.
This is a problem for most new lawyers who came straight from law school without savings of their own or without people to give them shopping funds. In that case, invest in key items such as closed black leather shoes (with heels for ladies) office pants or skirt, and coats/blazers preferably in neutral colors like gray and black. It will be wise to invest in quality clothes which you can use for years than in cheap ones that will lose color after few uses.
2. Always come to court prepared.
Some of us learned this the hard way and had to look like idiots during a hearing. But you don’t have to. Mentors and coaches will be very helpful especially when you’re in doubt about what to say or how to do certain things in court. The rule remains – study your case, know your law and be prepared to deal with older lawyers dying to take advantage of your lack of experience.
3. Keep your law books and other reading materials handy.
Just like most fresh bar passers, I was very generous when it came to lending my books only to learn later in practice that I still needed most of it. When lending your books, be sure to note who borrowed what. This will make it easier for you to retrieve them once needed. It’s also best if you keep your books on procedure and in those fields which you think you’ll most likely focus your budding practice in.
4. You will commit a lot of mistakes but don’t be discouraged.
The first year of practice can be full of I-wish-earth-would-swallow-me-now moments. For some of us, confidence takes some time. During my first few appearances, there were times when I knew the other lawyer was wrong but I didn’t feel confident enough to point it out. I was unsure of myself but after asking other lawyers, I realized what I went through was normal. This is that stage when you’re caught between knowing and not knowing what the law is, but it’s also the time when judges (at least some of them) are most forgiving of your mistakes. Take advantage of your first year to do the following:
a) Learn best practices from intelligent and experienced lawyers;
b) Observe how experienced lawyers deal with difficult clients and judges; and
c) Figure out whether litigation practice is for you.
5. There will be a lot of doubters. Do your best anyway.
There will be people who will doubt your ability to handle a case or a situation. You might also come across people who will ask you questions only to challenge your knowledge. There’s nothing much we can do about their existence. Don’t let these people drain your energy or swallow your confidence. Remember – you ARE a lawyer. You worked your a** off for years in law school, hurdled 6 months of bar review, and called on all the saints as you waited for 6 more months until the Supreme Court finally announced that you passed the bar. You ARE a lawyer and most of these doubters are not.
As of this writing, it’s only been 5 months after my second anniversary in the profession. My first year was spent in general practice. After that, I’ve chosen to engage in administrative law and it has become more fulfilling knowing that I’m finally doing that which I believe I can do well. As one saying goes, if there is anything that a man (or woman) can do well, let him (or her) do it. Enjoy your first year of practice and welcome to the world of the legal profession.