Where Should You Start Your Career?
Asking where you will begin your career—in an office or in your living room—is an important question to ask during your on-campus interviews. You may have heard the manta “remote work is here to stay” in the post-COVID workplace, including at Big Law firms. You may be wondering what role remote or hybrid work will play in your legal career, or whether you should expect to be working in the office Monday through Friday. As you interview with firms, you will likely learn about the firm’s plans regarding in-office, remote, and hybrid work. In this article, I share my experience working primarily in the office as a new lawyer. As you decide what firm is the best fit for you, I encourage you to consider the benefits of in-office work during your first years of practice.
Gaining Work Experience. As a junior associate, you will rely on partners and senior associates for your work assignments. Partners and senior associates often give work to the people that they think of, and when they see you frequently in the office, they will start to think of you. By working in the office, you give attorneys a visual reminder to reach out to you for their next project. If you choose a firm with multiple offices, the attorneys who you see regularly can connect you with their colleagues across the firm and expand your network. Working in the office can also be a crystal ball into your future at the firm. By interacting with associates at all levels, you can get a glimpse of the type of work that will come your way as you gain experience and seniority at the firm.
When I started at Jones Day in the New Lawyer’s Group in October 2021, partners, associates, and staff could either work remotely or come into the office, following the necessary health and safety precautions. After eighteen months of remote law school, a virtual summer program, and an online bar exam, I was excited to come into the office.
Early on, I began working with attorneys who came into the office regularly. To facilitate these relationships, I made the office my primary place of work. They quickly filled my plate with interesting and diverse work assignments. I began drafting memos counseling Fortune 500 companies and preparing papers for national employment law conferences. By being in the office, I had the opportunity to sit-in on case strategy meetings, calls with clients, and discussions among senior partners all within my first six months! Now, I am often asked to help with interesting, new assignments by associates and partners with whom I have developed relationships while working in the office.
Building Relationships. Developing professional, working relationships with partners, associates, and staff should be a top priority as a junior associate. The people with whom you work should know not only your top-notch work product, but also should know you. Share your love of puzzles, baking, or hiking with your new colleagues. In my experience, this occurs naturally when you show up to the office. One of the first things anyone learns about me is my love of cats. During my second month at Jones Day, I put down my beloved law school cat, Beau. My Jones Day colleagues rallied around me during this difficult time by covering my work and offering words of encouragement. Bring your whole self to work and you will reap the rewards.
Reducing Barriers to Growth. Working from the office helps your professional development as you transition from law student to lawyer. Senior associates and partners frequently will ask you to perform tasks that you have never done before. As a junior associate, no one expects you to know how to do everything (let alone do it perfectly the first time), but you are expected to learn, ask questions, and grow. In-person work gives you access to invaluable mentorship and training opportunities that can be difficult to replicate over email or video conference.
Many firms provide junior associates with formal training and mentorship programs. Both programs can (and often do) occur online with great success. But even the best online programs cannot replicate the casual interactions and spontaneous in-person meetings that occur between junior associates and seasoned lawyers. Although technology can often facilitate connections between junior and senior lawyers, it can be hard to replicate popping into another lawyer’s office to bounce an idea or receive guidance on a project during a spontaneous meeting. Great training and mentorship happens when an experienced lawyer teaches you not just how to accomplish a task but explains why you are doing it. In my experience, I receive answers to my “why questions” more often when I am face-to-face with another attorney.
As a junior associate, you will have many questions. Physical presence in the office often simplifies the question asking process. Being in-person allows you to take advantage of an unexpected moment of free time in another attorney’s day. You also become a friendly face instead of another email that requires attention in a busy partner’s inbox. You may feel intimidated to ask for help from busy senior associates or partners, especially if you are working from home. As a new lawyer, I often fear sending an email to ask small, quick questions. However, I find myself less reticent to ask a question when I hear that the senior associate finished her call and know can she spend a few minutes with me. Whether you are at home or in the office, never hesitate to ask a question because the answers to your questions teach you the practice of law.
Even at Jones Day where our primary place of work is the office, remote work provides the flexibility we sometimes all need, as we juggle the demands of our careers and personal life. But for the day-to-day, I find that the benefits of coming into the office—the substantive work experience, relationships, and mentorship—all vastly outweigh the inconveniences of getting ready, preparing a lunch, and commuting. Even if a firm offers remote or hybrid work for its newest ranks of lawyers, I recommend spending time in the office. The value of in-office work during the early stages of your career are hard to beat.
Lauren Ball is an associate in the San Diego office of Jones Day. The views and opinions set forth herein are the personal views or opinions of the author; they do not necessarily reflect views or opinions of the law firm with which she is associated.
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