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Welcome to "First Week at the Firm," a 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.
Your first week at the firm will probably find you worrying about your work load and stressed about performance as you start getting this whole lawyering thing down. But don't forget to make sure you have everything settled down HR-wise as well.
If your firm is large enough to have an HR department, swing by. HR can help set you up with direct deposit, employer contributions to your retirement plan, free gym memberships, and more. You've just got to know what to ask them. Here are five questions every new associate should ask their HR department:
1. What are the firm's policies on...?
Issues about scheduling, telecommuting, and such may have come up during the offer stage of your interview process, but if you don't have an absolutely clear understanding of what the policy is, ask HR. You were told that you could work from home occasionally by a partner, but what exactly are the rules for that? Ask HR to give you a copy of the firm policies on telecommuting, time off, travel expenses, and the like.
2. Who should you go to when there's a problem?
Not that you should be expecting any major problems at your firm, but it's best to be prepared. This could be something as simple as a computer on the fritz or a complaint about inappropriate work assignments.
3. Where do you pick up your benefits?
What's the deal with health care, subsidized gym membership, dental? Can you get your commute costs deducted from your check pre-tax? Your first week at the firm might as well be first week on the forms given the amount of on boarding paperwork you're likely to encounter. Make sure that you know what benefits are available and that you have a copy of your plan or policies for when questions come up later.
4. What professional development opportunities are available?
Sure, you've been told about the congeniality and camaraderie of the firm, but what actual official programs are in place? Does the firm provide all your CLEs or have a formalized mentorship program? Can you be reimbursed for joining specialty bar associations or pursuing extra training? You might just be easing in to your new life as an associate now, but it's never too early to start planning for the next step up the ladder.
5. When can you retire a millionaire?
You might not be thinking about it now, but retirement will come around sooner than you think -- and it will be very, very expensive. Start thinking about how much you will contribute to your retirement plan. What sort of plans does the firm offer and which ones might you pursue on your own? How much retirement savings will they match?
Even a lawyer with very modest earnings can retire with a million dollars set aside if she starts putting away five to ten percent of her income in her twenties. While that might sound like a fair amount of money, consider that you might need to live off it for thirty years before, well, your retirement ends.