It's sort of like being a new Marine who just finished basic training- you're trained beyond anything you could've imagined, your equipped, locked and loaded. After all those drills and exercises, you are ready for combat.
However, new law graduate, before you start firing when confronting a legal problem, my advice is to ease your sweaty finger off the trigger and stand down. Instead, take the time to actually probe and explore the problem. Make sure that you are hearing what is being said and that you are listening carefully to what the client (or senior associate, or partner) is telling you. There is absolutely nothing worse than a misfire early on in your career.
Listening is somewhat deceiving. After all, we are all born with two ears, but only one mouth. We all think that we are good listeners. And, after spending three years in law school and months listening to bar prep instructors, most of us believe we have more than paid our dues as listeners.
However, true effective listening is much more than just hearing what is being said. Listening should be an intensely active process. And the best way to learn to listen is actually pretty simple. In order to ensure that you are listening, you must learn to ask good questions. Ironically, most of us are afraid to ask questions, especially as new lawyers, because we do not want to appear less than authoritative.
However, my experience is that the most competent and confident lawyers excel as questioners. For example, a skilled questioner in a deposition is pure art in its highest form. I've seen lawyers ask questions that elicited responses (especially embarrassing admissions) from the deponent that you would have sworn beforehand would never have come out. And the lawyers that ask good questions, listen carefully to the answers and ask more good questions during a deposition are engaging in lawyering in its highest form.
A good questioner can drive a conversation any way he or she wants it to go. Generally, the best way to engage is to start by asking "open-ended" questions- questions that encourage the recipient to talk and open up about the subject. Open-ended questions can then lead to more focused "closed" probes- questions that are designed to elicit specific answers; often yes or no answers.
Aside from depositions, becoming a skilled questioner can help a new lawyer better identify the client's needs. It can also help you to test and challenge the client's assertions. And perhaps even more importantly, it helps you to avoid the "hair trigger" syndrome- the need to offer authoritative advice in any given situation.
So, the next time you are asked for your opinion or advice, consider responding with a question. A really good open-ended question is simply, "Help me to understand . . .". This will virtually guarantee that you will learn more facts.
And you might be surprised at what you find out. I've been in countless client discussions in which I was certain the discussion was going in a certain direction. Suddenly, with a well-placed question, all of my assumptions were thrown out the window. Just as you learn to sift through fact patterns as a law student, sift through the facts with your client by asking good questions. You will certainly avoid prematurely pulling the trigger- and you will almost certainly learn something.