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Adapting to a New Climate: Tips for Acclimating to a Different Workplace

King County Bar Bulletin
October 2015


A change in job or office can be daunting. Switching jobs usually requires changes in commute, colleagues, clients, projects and often lifestyle, especially for young attorneys. Everyone and everything is new.

Thankfully, there are several helpful strategies to maintain your composure during your transition. Successful transitions in the legal field require settling, goal-setting, jumping in, marketing and following up.

Make Yourself at Home

Attorneys often spend more time in their offices than at home. Add personal touches to your office to be more comfortable and efficient in your new environment. You can make yourself at home by getting to know your surroundings and personalizing your space.

Get to know your surroundings. If you are not given a tour of the office, take one anyway. Find the break room, the office supplies and the best route to the restroom. Find the printers, scanners and copy machines, and verify that your computer can print to those locations.

On your first day, everyone knows that you are new and getting comfortable in the office. However, after a week or two in a new office, it is embarrassing to ask for directions to basic office facilities. Learn the basics during your first week to save your future self from embarrassment.

Personalize your space. Once you know where the supplies cabinet is located, stock your desk with the necessary supplies. Remember to grab the essentials: pens, highlighters, legal pads, Post-It notes, more Post-It notes and file folders. Consider the less obvious. For example, grab extra staples to keep in your office. Ask if there is a set of Washington Court Rules for you. Do not forget to customize your voicemail message and email signature.

Most offices allow you to bring framed pictures of family, artwork or your diplomas from home. Bring artwork that helps you relax. Displaying your personal interests in your workspace can be a great conversation starter with your colleagues.

Decorations should be professional. For example, if you would not wear a bathing suit to work, then it would be inappropriate to post a picture of you in a bathing suit in your workspace.

If you have specific needs, ask the office administration or operations staff. Staff can be helpful if you need software installed, prefer a different monitor setup or need an ergonomic keyboard. Be respectful to staff when making these requests and recognize that not all offices have the resources to support your needs. It is best to start on the best foot with operations staff, because they can be the most knowledgeable and helpful people in the office.

Develop Personal Goals

Once you are settled, make a list of goals for yourself in your new job and draft a business plan. Your goals can be simple or complex, but be strategic about them. Thinking ahead is the best way to move forward and improve. Set large goals and small benchmarks to meet the goals. Schedule times to check the status of your goals in your calendar.

New associates should aim to get to know their new colleagues. Plan to learn something personal about everyone in the office or schedule a lunch with everyone in your practice group by the end of the week, month or year. In a law firm, the partners are your clients. They give you work and help develop your practice. Engage with them early and often.

All attorneys should aim to improve their performance metrics. Understand where you are and where you want to be. Other examples of goals include finding a certain number of clients by the end of the year, landing a large client or getting a raise. You could have a mentoring goal. You could aim to become known as skillful in your field of law.

Consider your goals for social networking. Depending on your style, you could have the goal of increasing your social networking presence to reach out to potential new clients. Conversely, you could aim to spend less time on social networking because it is getting in the way of your work.

Jump in

Get to work. Gather and work on projects right away. Seek work from others in the office or organize your new priorities and get cracking. This will show your new office mates that you are a go-getter and that you are ready to put your nose to the grindstone.

Remember, the first days at a new job are like an extended interview. First impressions are important. Your coworkers have never worked with you before and they do not know enough about you to have developed an opinion. Although they gave you a job, you have not proven yourself yet. Work as hard as you can in the first few weeks to develop their trust. Listen to them and soak everything in.

Socialize: Get To Know Your Colleagues

While you already see your colleagues often in the office, it is important to get to know them outside the office. You will be more comfortable with them if you see them outside the work environment. Your coworkers can introduce you to convenient networking locations near your office and teach you about your new neighborhood. They can also let you know where to go for help in the office.

While taking a tour of your new office, introduce yourself to other attorneys. On your first introduction, repeat their name and ask for the correct pronunciation. If you are a visual person, look at the name plate on or near their desk or ask them to write it down.

Your colleagues will appreciate that you care enough to get their name right and you will avoid awkwardness in the future. Another method of remembering names is to mentally compare the person with another person you know with the same name. Nothing is more uncomfortable than forgetting or mispronouncing an acquaintance's or colleague's name.

Do not overlook or discount staff. Many staff members are often more familiar with the office culture and facilities than you are. In many offices, it is common for several staff members to have worked for the firm longer than most of the attorneys and partners. Whether you are a new associate or a partner with a giant book of business, always be courteous with staff. They are your support. If you get on their bad side, your office experience will be miserable.

Socialize outside the office. Get a coffee, snack or lunch or take in a happy hour with your colleagues. Schedule a time with each person who you will be working with or would like to get to know. As an associate, getting to know other attorneys can keep you on their radar for future, fun projects. As a partner, you will learn about other practice areas and cross-marketing opportunities.

Market Yourself and Cross-Market

It is important to reach out to your contacts right away to explain your move and introduce your new office space. Your change is a great opportunity to connect with people with whom you have lost touch.

Connect to your firm's social media account and share it with your network. Learn firm marketing strategies and ask your colleagues for marketing group recommendations. If the firm has a newsletter, subscribe to it. If the firm has a blog, contribute. If the firm does not have a blog, start your own.

When you publicize your change with connections, schedule lunches or coffee dates with them to follow up and learn about any changes in their lives. All of your connections are potential referral sources, and now that your colleagues have introduced you to networking locations, you can invite your connections.

Actively listen during your meeting. Leave your phone on silent, pay attention, look them in the eyes, nod, and repeat what they say in your own words to verify that you understood clearly. Learn about them. Let them know you care even when not billing your time.

Cross-marketing and connecting your connections with others can be extremely effective. During a lunch or coffee date with a colleague, learn about their practice and whether you have cross-marketing opportunities. Do your clients know experts in a field that would be helpful for your colleagues?

Making connections among your acquaintances, colleagues and friends will improve your practice, and they will appreciate spending time with you. In exchange, they may introduce you to new clients. They will see that you know others in the community. Knowledge of the community can show your experience and knowledge of the legal field.

Periodically Check Your Progress

Remember to schedule a time in your calendar to refer back to your goals. Are you working toward them? Did you get distracted and stray from your goals? Should your goals change? If you keep your list of goals in a pile on your desk, it will gather dust and you will not have learned anything. The best way to achieve your goals is check up on them.

Once you have completed these steps, and after spending several months in your new office, you should be successfully acclimated to your new environment.

Originally published in King County Bar Association Bar Bulletin in September 2015