Book Review: Thrive (a New Lawyer’s Guide to Law Firm Practice)

With May fast approaching, the time is ripe to find presents for the law school graduates on your list. While Thrive (a New Lawyer’s Guide to Law Firm Practice) may not be the best gift for every law grad, it is a perfect gift for those starting big firm practice. (You might, however, not want to pass off a copy to a friend who has not yet secured a post-grad gig.) An Anti-How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, this book details the ways to succeed through earnest hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm.

Advice for the Big Law Bound

The book is written (and narrated) by Desiree Moore—a 2005 law graduate who worked for a midsize firm and a mega-firm before chucking it all to become a law firm guru. She now teaches practical skills to law students, helping them transition from school to a legal career.

As a result of her own experiences, the book focuses primarily on the big law experience. So much so, in fact, that it could lead a new grad at a small firm astray. For example, she advises that “in no instance” should you let more than three hours go by without returning an email. At a small firm, however, you may be meeting with a client or taking a deposition for more than three hours. You will not be desk bound responding to emails. This kind of advice could only elevate your anxiety as you hear her imaginary three-hour clock ticking.

For the big firm bound, however, Thrive offers helpful tricks and tips. For example, it never would have occurred to me to remove the “sent from my iphone” tag which “needlessly lets people know that you are out of the office.” Ms. Moore also outlines helpful strategies to apply when others take credit for your work (at the conclusion of the project/matter, spin by the partner’s office to discuss, and identify, your work on the case). And, she advises avoiding fluffy snow boots, even during your commute, so that you can maintain a professional appearance, leaving me to conclude that Ms. Moore does not live in Minnesota.

In addition to providing practical tips, the book offers a big picture perspective that I found helpful as a newer lawyer. In a chapter on “Mistakes,” Ms. Moore describes her own worst moment—readers will empathize and be grateful that she shares the experience (which, of course, turned out okay). I also plan to take her advice when it comes to apologizing for a mistake—she notes that the attorney should apologize only once, enabling all to move on more quickly.

But What Does it Mean to Thrive?

The word thrive, of course, means to flourish. While Ms. Moore’s book offers helpful advice for those looking to succeed in a law firm environment, some of her advice struck me as counterintuitive for those looking to flourish in the fullest sense of the word. In an effort to look dedicated, she recommends offering to cancel scheduled vacations that conflict with projects. And, she advises turning down work only when it is not physically feasible to complete a project (I personally recommend a long-term approach to taking on new projects—if you take on two huge  cases at the same time it might be feasible to keep up in the beginning, but it will become impossible when both cases hit an intensive discovery or briefing stage, leading to disappointing people in the future instead of the present). New lawyers must, of course, find their own balance, and I worry that Ms. Moore emphasizes saying yes to everything without talking about long-term balance and the lifecycle of a case.

Finally, the book is a tad humorless. Ms. Moore is incredibly earnest about the big law system that she enthusiastically describes. For this reason, sometimes her tips read like fortune cookie pieces of advice: “Never forego the opportunity to make a positive impression”; and “the best attorneys in any law firm have an impeccable work ethic.” It’s the sort of advice you would expect to see in the Boy Scout Handbook. And there is a nary a mention of the dark side of office life: working for a difficult individual, sexual harassment, etc.

All that said, if you just read Sheryl Sandberg and you are totally ready to “lean in” to law firm life, this book is a how to manual that will get the job done.

(image: Close Up of Green Seedling from Shutterstock)

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