Most employers won’t deliberately trick you, but there are hundreds of tiny office policies that aren’t in the employee handbook.
Whether you are naming a document or requesting a check for a filing fee, your office has policies and procedures that you need to embrace. Should you decide to freelance document names, you will be cursed by the staff members who have to search for them after you’ve gone. When you have requested the wrong filing fee more than twice, you are just annoying.
Grammar and spelling
Wise advice from a seasoned lawyer to a summer clerk: “The client may not understand all of the nuances of her problem right away, but she can spell and punctuate. Poor spelling and incorrect grammar that she can identify makes her skeptical of your legal work, and, perhaps, less likely to pay.” Relying on spelling and grammar checking programs is risky. Those programs are all too often wildly wrong.
If part of your critique has been about grammar and spelling or, as it is sometimes called, “style,” it is time to do some writing remediation.
Some employers have internal writing coaches or are willing to hire outside trainers. On your own? Pay attention to what your supervisors read (Wall Street Journal? NY Times?) and consider those publications as a source of style. Read from them out loud for 10 minutes a day. Read your work out loud before submitting it. Ask your supervisor for a recommendation for a grammar book.
Office Culture: Furniture and decoration
Look at your colleagues’ offices. Are they decorated with conservative, traditional furniture? Are walls covered with art chosen by individuals or is there an office-wide art policy?
Until you know what the norm is, leave your black velvet Elvis painting at home.
Office Culture: Dress
Two basic points: (1) Ask if there is a dress code, and (2) Always be courtroom ready if you want to be taken along to observe.
This may mean having a suit or a jacket hanging behind your door.
MEN Cowboy boots and string ties may be the norm in some parts of the country, and there may still be offices in which men wear seersucker suits during the summer. Tread carefully before you deviate from traditional office attire or risk becoming a subject of unflattering discussions.
WOMEN Oh. Where to start? No cleavage. No see-through garments of any kind. No skirts so short that people call them scarves behind your back. A trowel is not a tool that you should use to apply makeup. Some employers require that women (still) wear closed-toed shoes and hose. Some courts (still) frown on women in pants.
Your music You should only need to be told to turn down the volume once. Just once.