My First Two Years as a Practicing Attorney

Published July 26, 2019

Your first couple of years of practice will be filled with many successes and stresses. While your practice area and where you work will impact what challenges you face, for me, many of the most exciting and stressful moments occur in the same place: the courtroom.  

Exciting and Stressful

Your first couple of years of practice will be filled with many successes and stresses. While your practice area and where you work will impact what challenges you face, for me, many of the most exciting and stressful moments occur in the same place: the courtroom.

The courtroom is where I have felt the most like a lawyer. This is your opportunity to showcase many of the skills you have learned. It can be thrilling to advocate for a client, to make creative arguments, and, of course, to win.

I Don't Always Have Solutions

As a brand new attorney, many of your clients will expect you to have an answer to their many questions and to always know what to do. The reality is you are not going to have an immediate solution to every single problem that arises. If these issues arise while you are in the office, you have time to research the issue, consult a colleague, etc. In the courtroom, it is just you. In the beginning, addressing surprise problems [for example, showing up to court to discover your client sent a bunch of inappropriate text messages to the opposing party and now there is a request for an order of protection], responding to opposing counsel’s arguments [objections in particular], and answering questions from the court [the dreaded “why”] can be rather anxiety inducing. You will question everything you said and spend far too long later thinking about all the things you could have said.

A Collegial Legal Community

I have found that the longer I practice and the more I appear in court, the more comfortable I am in doing so. That is not to say I suddenly have all the answers. I am just more comfortable with admitting I need time to look into an issue. Further, the longer you practice, the more familiar you are with other attorneys. In Buffalo, we have a very collegial legal community. While you may be opponents in the courtroom, local attorneys are usually friendly and willing to assist other attorneys. Being familiar with your fellow attorneys and the court staff makes appearing in court significantly less stressful.

Preparing for Practice

While I was in law school, I took advantage of several of the “hands on” learning opportunities available. I participated in the Pro Se Practicum, where I staffed the Erie County Family Court help desk, which provides legal advice to pro se litigants. This allowed me to meet several attorneys and learn how to interact with clients. I also participated in the Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic, which allowed me to represent clients (with a student practice order) in court under the supervision of my clinical professor. I also was a Pro Bono Scholar. This program not only enabled me to sit for the New York State Bar exam early, but also allowed me to spend my last semester of law school volunteering full-time for a not-for-profit organization, which gave me the opportunity to assist in representing clients, including cross-examining witnesses. The best way to prepare for actual practice is to participate in classes and activities that give you a chance to represent real clients without some of the stress that come once you are admitted to practice.

Work/Life Balance

Maintaining a life separate from your work helps to ease some of the stress of practice. The work is never done, so it is easy to spend all your waking hours at the office. This is more difficult if you work at a private firm, but it is necessary to set boundaries about the number of hours you work and taking work home. You need time for you. In this field, that means consciously making time for yourself and leaving work at the office.

Being a lawyer can be stressful and all consuming, but can also be exciting and rewarding. Do your best to prepare, both while you are in law school and once you are practicing, make time for yourself, and just stick with it. It’s worth it.

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Madison Ozzella '17 is an attorney with the Erie County Department of Social Services Office of Counsel

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