January 2017

“Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”— Five New Year’s Resolutions for New Lawyers

By Jeffrey Chinn

Director of Career Services, Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Tired of making the usual New Year’s resolutions? Need to recharge your energy and reduce your stress levels? Here are a few examples that will make a positive impact on your professional and personal life. As Mr. Springsteen said, “Gonna chase the clouds away, [w]aitin' on a sunny day.”1

1. Be a Leader!

Take the reins of a project at work or in the community. An office-related project can demonstrate your leadership abilities to others and it’s always fun to get to know your co-workers better. Being a community leader can lead to business development or bring a sense of pride and accomplishment (e.g., you’ve helped a nonprofit have its most successful event ever!). Socially, create a recreational sports team and manage the team. Or be ambitious and organize a group activity (e.g., indoor skydiving, wine tasting, San Diego Gulls hockey game, movie, concert, etc.).  Becoming active with an SDCBA section is a great place to start!

2. Learn from Failure

What happens when an attorney loses a motion or a case? Will Myers, former BigLaw attorney and now psychotherapist, says that attorneys are poorly equipped to handle professional defeat. 2 Myers says that many attorneys isolate themselves rather than using co-workers as a support system. He also says that the happiest lawyers have mentors. In my experience, Myers is right. If a mistake has been made, it is the time for review by everyone involved. Attorneys should not always blame themselves or assign a disproportionate amount of blame to others. There will be more cases to handle and successes to celebrate.

3. Build a Support System

Find a mentor or become a mentor. Mentors are often thought of as only applying to students. Not true! Mentor relationships come in all shapes and sizes—formal (monthly meetings) or informal (occasional coffee or email). The topics can range from professional advice to career development. Find one today! Or become a mentor. No matter how many (or few) years you have practiced, you can always become a mentor to a college or law student. Unsure you can give advice? As we all remember, being a law student is not always easy and often the role of the mentor is just to be a good listener and be a supportive and calming influence.  

Why do I need a support system? Talk to veteran attorneys and you will find out that they often reach out to others for advice. Rather than one person, attorneys often have a list of contacts (a Rolodex for us old-timers) that they reach out to depending on their need. Reach out to others to talk about an upcoming Motion to Dismiss or to talk about a recent oral argument. You will feel better and wiser afterwards. Everyone will need help at some point no matter how accomplished they are. Not sure who to reach out to? The SDCBA listserves are a great place to pose a question and get detailed advice from experienced attorneys including references and offers to share sample briefs. 

4. Bring Positivity to Your Life

I recently read an article on Lifehack.org called “10 Essential Habits of Positive People.”3 What makes a positive person?  Here are few examples cited in the article: 1) Positive people don’t just have a good day—they make a good day; 2) Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person; 3) Positive people smile a lot!; 4) Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities; and, 5) People who are positive are great communicators.

5. Put Your (and Others’) Health First!

Casey Sullivan’s blog4 on Law.com says that “[s]tress, long hours, the drink, they can all wear you down before your time. Reinvest in yourself in 201[7] by focusing on healthy habits, mindfulness, stress relief, and maybe a little exercise.”  More importantly, take care of your friends and others. Many articles have reported on the depression and severe anxiety that many attorneys and law students deal with. I, and the San Diego legal community, have recently suffered losses where such symptoms have led to tragic results. Please take the time to observe and listen to what troubles others. We cannot ignore the signs or ignore them.5