Surviving Your First Year as a Texas Lawyer: What New Lawyers Need to Know

Published on May 12, 2023 Lawyer Life

Whether you recently graduated from law school or just landed a job as a first-year associate, congratulations! Transitioning into the “real world” of law is understandably daunting, but with the right guidance, you’ll be able to make the most of your first year and set the groundwork for a successful future in the legal profession.

Impostor Syndrome is Completely Normal

Your first day (and first year, for that matter) will feel as if you jumped out of a plane without a parachute. Every day. And that’s fine. You’ll have to learn a lot and make plenty of mistakes at the beginning, but that will serve as a positive foundation for a long-lived career.

Take these opportunities to grow and gain experience. Instead of shutting down and pretending you know the answers to everything, ask those around you for help. Before long, tasks that felt insurmountable will become second nature. As your first year goes on, those feelings of impostor syndrome will begin to melt away.

Find a Mentor

It may feel as if you’re wasting people’s time if you’re constantly asking questions at work. A way to combat this is by finding a mentor you can turn to for advice, guidance, and help whenever you feel stuck or uncertain.

To find a mentor, consider participating in events held by the State Bar or become a member of local bar associations in your city. Network and socialize with other lawyers to get to know the community you’re now a part of. From there, you can build relationships with others who have gone through exactly what you’re experiencing.

Not sure where to start? These three State Bar of Texas resources are free and offer great opportunities for new lawyers:

Not only will a mentor help you on your path toward success, but in a few years, you can become a mentor to someone else!

Some Firms are Not Going to be The Right Fit — You Don’t Need to Settle

Each year, approximately 3,000 new lawyers acquire their licenses to practice law in the state of Texas. You’re in good company, but that also means the job market is always competitive. However, this doesn’t mean you should accept the very first offer you get.

Let’s say you get hired by a firm, but after a few weeks or months, you feel completely miserable. Don’t worry, there’s a very likely chance your first job out of law school won’t be perfect.

So, if you feel like the job isn’t the right fit, don’t be afraid to leave for greener pastures. Now you’ll have a clearer understanding of what you want in a firm and you’ll be able to make a better decision. It may not take the first few times, but you’ll eventually join a team with whom you enjoy working. Don’t get discouraged; there are over 35,000 law firms in Texas so there’s plenty of opportunity for you to find the right fit.

Know Your Worth

As a practitioner, you spent years of your life in school and thousands of dollars on your education. Don’t be afraid to charge a reasonable fee for what your time, advice, and work is worth. This doesn’t just go for clients. Although you’re just getting started, you shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate your salary with a firm. This is a great opportunity to ask your mentor for more specific advice on what your initial salary should be.

If you’re unsure about the “right” salary, you can use this Glassdoor page to see the estimated total pay for first-year associates based on years of experience. Note that the page is for Houston, TX so you can change the location to fit your potential job market.

Ask Your Clients Questions

Once you get through the door and start working at a firm, you may need to hit the ground running. You’ll begin meeting with clients and taking on countless cases. It will be overwhelming at first, but soon it will feel like second nature.

You might begin to see a pattern here, but there are no stupid questions. In fact, sometimes the most obscure or useless information may actually be useful in achieving a client's goals and dealing with the opposing side(s).

Keeping Control of Your Clients is Key

While clients may control the goals, the attorney controls the means to accomplish them. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your clients. If what they want cannot be done the way they want it, let them know. While this degree of honesty may seem blunt, it’s in the client’s overall best interest.

Make Sure You Have the Right Resources

If you ever feel out of your depth or lost, just remember that there are various resources available for you to find your way. Take our publications, for example. Texas Bar Practice is one of the leading resources for practice manuals, legal forms, reference cards, and so much more. Whether you prefer the old-school feel of hardcover books or you’re more tech-savvy, we have options available for you.

Since you’re just getting started, it’s natural to want to be as frugal as possible. This is where our online subscriptions come into play. With low monthly or yearly rates available, you can have access to some of Texas Bar Practice’s most popular publications at the push of a button. Take a look at our current lineup of online subscriptions here.

As a member of the State Bar of Texas, you can also sign up for free daily case law alerts from Fastcase. This way, you’ll be able to start your day by reading about any changes relating to 13 different practice areas.

Apart from accessing the right publications, you also need to practice online safety. For instance, your passwords should not be easily guessable. Hackers tend to target new employees so if you start a job at a firm, be as cautious as possible when it comes to accessing accounts or communicating with others electronically. To learn more about the most common data risks lawyers face, check out our blog on the topic.

Make It a Priority to Balance Work and Life

Being an attorney is a highly stressful job. As such, it’s necessary to find a way to turn off the “lawyer brain” and enjoy moments outside of the office or courtroom. Don’t let work encroach on your personal life, hobbies, and friendships. Make it a priority to spend quality time with friends and family.

At first, your mind might feel like it’s bursting at the seams with ideas; you’ll be up at night brainstorming ways to deal with a certain client’s issues even though you should be sleeping. While this may seem exciting at first, it can quickly lead to burnout.

To avoid burning out early in your professional life, emphasize the importance of balancing work and life. Set boundaries for yourself and keep your mental and physical health in check.

Congratulations and Enjoy the Ride!

For more answers to frequently asked questions about becoming a lawyer, please take a look at the State Bar of Texas "Becoming a Lawyer" FAQ page. There are also programs and associations of which you should be aware, including:

Look, you’re not alone in this. We hope your first year is full of exciting opportunities, challenges, and learning experiences. We also hope this survival guide provided you with a bit of guidance to make the path through those first 365 days less daunting than it may seem now.

Otto Nicli

Otto Nicli

Otto Nicli is part of the State Bar's Web team and serves as the blog writer for the Texas Bar Practice website. He also plays a part in marketing and video production. In his free time, he enjoys watching Top Chef with his wife, collecting records, reading, and going to shows.

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