‘ONBOARDING’ BY FIRE
THE ‘FIRST DAY’ AT WORK I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER
Ever have those bad dreams where you’re supposed to give a presentation or speak in public, but you haven’t prepared at all? It’s the stuff of nightmares for a reason, and yet that’s almost exactly the situation I found myself in, years ago, at the first law office I ever worked for.
You can imagine my excitement to be working for a bona fide law firm. I’d worked very hard to get there — law school, passing the bar, and more studying than anybody should ever have to deal with. When day one rolled around, I was nervous but also excited. I knew it wasn’t going to be like a TV show law job, but even if I was stuck at a desk for a while, I knew I’d learn the ropes and eventually get the chance to prove myself in court.
When one of the partners approached me and shook my hand, I figured he was going to welcome me and tell me where to sit.
“You the new attorney?” he said. I told him I was. He then stuffed a large folder into my hand. “Great,” he said. “This is the client’s file. You’ve got court in a few hours.” I must have misheard him, right? That’s what I thought, anyway. But as he turned around and disappeared into the hustle and bustle of the busy office, I realized this was no misunderstanding — and when I asked around, I realized they weren’t playing a joke on the new guy, either. I really did have court that day.
You can imagine the amount of cramming I did in the next few hours; it put studying for the bar to shame! I’d never seen that case before. Heck, I’d never even been in front of a judge before. What were they thinking? Was this trial by fire? Looking back on it now, I suppose it was a bit of that. And I see the value in onboarding someone that way. But now that I’ve onboarded new attorneys myself, I think it was mostly just disorganization. They needed someone in court, all the other lawyers were busy with more important things, and I was the only person there who could do it. I can’t fault them for that, although I’ve made sure to never put my own firm in the same position.
So, how was that first court appearance? Well, let’s just say that I was nervous … But despite that, it actually went pretty well. I got to argue in front of the judge, go back and forth with the opposing counsel (whom I later stayed in touch with), and I did a good job for my client. I’d call that a good outcome, considering it was literally a bad dream come true!
There was one interesting result, however: I found myself loving the experience. Being in court was like nothing else I’d done. I had to be smart, tough, quick on my feet, but also know when to back down and defer to the judge. It was my first day at a real law firm, and I realized I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. Many attorneys don’t actually like to go to court, which means I recognized the advantage I had in that arena early. To this day, my firm doesn’t back down or shy away from going to trial, as long as it’s in the client’s best interest.
Like I said earlier, I’ve now guided a few new attorneys through their own “first days,” and while I do believe in tossing someone in the deep end to see if they can swim, I also see the value in having a lifeguard nearby. I’ve never put anybody through quite what I endured my first day, but I’m grateful for the experience all the same. As the Whisler Law Firm starts yet another new year, I look back on that experience and all the others that have shaped the lawyer I am today.
– Josh Whisler