Be Less Useless

Recently I was chatting to a young friend of mine who is interning at a law firm while waiting his second batch of bar exams, after which he will get called to the bar. During this process the young ‘baby lawyers’ intern and try to learn as much about actually being a lawyer as possible. Like many people at the very start of his career he is spending a lot of time worrying about how to succeed at work. He knows his subject of course, but there’s a great gulf between knowing the law and being a lawyer. And like most of us he’s feeling that panic of being in a new job and trying to figure out a new job, new company, new situation… how to put our best foot and best face forward.

My coaching to him was to, first, take a breath, and stop worrying about how to be a great lawyer. That’s too big a task for him or anyone to take on. Instead, to just look at what is in front of him, and figure out how to be great at that. I explained to him that one of the most stressful times for many professionals is when they finally hire someone to help them. Their own productivity drops because they now have to stop what they are doing and explain to someone else how to help them. This is especially true in a case (like the one he’s in) where his senior actually has a duty to teach and help complete his legal education.

So given all that, the second coaching I gave him was this: every day, try to be just a bit less useless than you were the day before. I know this sounds negative, but sometimes putting things in such obvious terms is the only way to really grasp the truth of it. So really, go to work on your second day and just try to be more useful, less useless than you were yesterday. Don’t repeat mistakes, minimise the times your seniors have to repeat instructions. Add value, become smarter, better, more accomplished, more confident at your job. And if you do that, every day – you will succeed.

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