You Don’t Have to Know Everything to be a Good Lawyer


blindfolded man with lightbulb

A lot of young lawyers approach their practice with a certain amount of… freaking out.

And it’s not that beneficial – for them, for me (who has to listen to it), or for their clients.

That said, only saying things like “stop freaking out” is a little on the unhelpful side, so I wanted to offer some more practical tips for when you feel like you have no Earthly idea what you’re doing…

Don’t Panic… Breathe

You’ve just come out from a meeting with your supervising partner, and she’s told you that you have to do a task.

Just one problem.

You don’t understand the instructions, you don’t know anything about the file, and you have no clue where to start.

Start by breathing.

Take a breath. Then another.

Remind yourself that you’ve studied subjects for years where, at first, you had no clue what you were doing.  Remind yourself that there is a time before knowing things, when you don’t know things.

Ask for Help

Sometimes the supervising partner isn’t really a details person.  So when they say “prepare the documents we need for default judgment” that’s all you’re going to get out of them.

If your team consists of just you and your partner, then the chances are you’ll be heading to Google pretty soon to try and find out what you can about the task.

But, in reality, the path of least resistance is to find the “helpful person that knows things”.

Most offices have one.  Perhaps it’s the longest serving secretary.  Perhaps it’s the office manager.  Perhaps it’s another solicitor with a few years under their belt.

Either way, if you’re starting to get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you’re about to be revealed as a total impostor and that your incompetence will soon be general knowledge, then fear not – a steady pair of hands from a helpful person that knows stuff will get you through.

Of course, this is not the kind of relationship to be abused – after all, you do have a job to do, and you can’t just ask other people the answers ALL the time.  But getting pointed in the right direction is not a concession of incompetence, despite how it might feel.

So just ask for help – you’ll save yourself time, energy, and potentially a certain amount of frustration.

You’re Not Useless… You’re Just New

I’m assuming here that you’re not useless, of course.  Perhaps you are, but if you’ve made it through a law degree and secured employment, my guess is that you’re not.

One of the things I do in my spare time is build furniture.  It’s hard.  It’s even harder when I’m trying a new technique, a new tool, or method that I’ve not done before.  My hands don’t do the right things, my tool feels unwieldy and cumbersome in my hands, and often the result needs a lot of fixing before it’s up to scratch.

However, I don’t internalise that experience and go back upstairs to sulk and tell myself that I must be terrible.

How about you don’t do it either?  Your initial efforts at anything – drafting a new type of document, writing letters, client meetings and many more – these are likely to be sub-par, and you’ll certainly get some feedback designed to fix it up so that it’s quality is sufficient to deliver to whoever is awaiting its delivery.

All that means is next time you’ll be able to do it better, and faster.  And the time after that, even more so.

So… Stop Freaking Out

There.  I said it.

But hopefully at this point you’ve got a few good methods to back it up.

Got any more tips to help out the new lawyers who are still finding their feet?  Let us know in the comments!

Happy Lawyering!

  • Yeah, Great tips, you don’t need to know everything. Just use properly what you know. Be calm always & use your brain to get best result. I like your article. Thanks for share

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