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First Week at the Firm: 3 Systems to Learn

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 06, 2015 12:54 PM

Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a new FindLaw feature for beginning associates, focused on helping you navigate the transition into firm life. We hope you'll enjoy this new series and come back regularly for more insider tips.

It's your first week at the firm and you're already making a great impression, dressing sharp, making friends and managing your work load. Now, you just need to print out that filing for a one last look through. Uh ... How do you do that?

As always, there's more to work than knowing how to do the work. Here's three systems to get under your belt as soon as you walk through the firm's door:

1. Timekeeping and Billing

Success is as simple as ABB -- always be billing. But, billing systems can take some getting used to. First, there are the categories and codes for every billable activity. Getting a handle on those can be its own headache. To add even another layer of timekeeping, some firms require attorneys to track even non-billable hours. Since software changes, if you've used one system, don't assume you'll be familiar with another system. Getting the timekeeping and billing down fast is necessary -- it is, after all, the way you get paid.

Tip: Your go to here? A fellow associate, lower on the totem-pole. They will be more understanding and have lots and lots of experience with the billing system. Lots.

2. IT: Phones, Printers, Faxes

Coming in only slightly behind timekeeping in terms of "figure it out fast!" is infrastructure -- those little systems that work everything in the office, from phones to faxes to computer logins. This includes things let how to set up your voice mail as well as how to use the firm's printer, faxes and photocopiers. Knowing if you need a special code for each client matter to make the printer work, or can you just rely on a legal secretary to handle all that?

Tip: The person in the know here will be a paralegal, or maybe that guy in the office who kind of knows how to fix everything. Don't go to a fellow attorney, the older ones might not even know. Go to the people who have hands on experience. Follow up with a major thank you (Starbucks card, gift certificate to local lunch spot) so they know you mean it.

3. Payroll and Deductions

Last, but not least, there's the reason you're at the firm in the first place: your unflagging sense of truth and justice -- and the paycheck. How much will you contribute to your retirement plan, and how will you change it when you realize it's not enough? Can you get transit costs taken out pre-tax? Will you be setting aside money in a flexible health savings account? Learning how the firm's payroll system works and how to set up or modify your deductions to take advantage of the full range of benefits available to you.

Tip: Is your firm big enough to have an HR dept? Go to them for the in's and outs. If not, accounting can help you with payroll. Google around a bit, there is lots of good advice on how much to save, and do save, even if you you are in your 20's and sure to be a rising star.

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