A new set of young and talented students recently graduated from law school in May, and as these eager new lawyers enter the workforce, I’d like to offer a little advice to them on how to succeed and thrive.
Joining a firm means that you, as a new associate, will be working with partners, which also means your work must be impeccable – no typos, spelling errors or formatting mistakes. One of our partners recently told me how much she enjoyed working with a certain associate who had prepared a motion that could be filed without a single change. This is what partners want. If I receive a document with errors that obviously hasn’t been proofread, I take it as a reflection on the work ethic of the lawyer.
Strive to be the “go-to” associate. In other words, be the person who partners seek out. You can work your way toward this reputation by rarely saying “no,” by being reliable and meeting your deadlines. If you’re not able to help, have a good reason and ask for a rain check. Go a step further and volunteer for work and projects without having to be asked.
Partners at your firm will also be impressed if you ask to shadow them. Don’t be overly enthusiastic or annoying, but ask to occasionally accompany him or her to meetings and to court. Clients don’t want to pay for double teaming, so you may have to work nights and weekends to stay on track to meet your billable goals, but this non-billable “shadowing” will allow you to gain invaluable insights and experience.
Be interested and active with regard to marketing and business development, because building strong client relationships is going to be key to your success. In every law firm, there are people who are good at it and some who aren’t. However, it is important to remember that marketing is nothing more than meeting people and developing a relationship with them over time. Join organizations and be active by taking leadership roles and showing enthusiasm for your work and your career.
Here are a few other key pieces of advice I would give to all new associates:
- Good work will impress clients – When we receive a letter, note or call from a client mentioning they were pleased with an associate’s results or service, we circulate it within the firm.
- Seek new business and develop new relationships – AND take great care of the clients you have. You must do all of these things.
- Become knowledgeable – Find an area of law you are interested in or passionate about, and share your expertise by speaking and/or writing on the topic. You will become recognized as an authority and a subject matter expert in your chosen practice area.
- Develop excellent communication skills – Learn to express yourself articulately on paper, in conversations and in presentations. Read books, attend seminars, take a Dale Carnegie course, join Toastmasters—do what it takes to become adept and at ease.
- Don’t complain – You definitely should not complain to other associates who aren’t in a position to address your concerns. If you have an issue, take it up with a partner directly.
So what else shouldn’t you do? It’s pretty simple. Unethical conduct is the kiss of death, which should go without saying. Failure to follow firm rules and administrative procedures can be damaging as well. Once you develop a reputation for skirting the truth, exhibiting deceitful behavior or being untrustworthy, you’re done in our profession.
Basically, it can be summed up with these four rules:
- Do what you say you are going to do.
- Finish what you start.
- Be on time and meet deadlines.
- Say please and thank you.
Follow these recommendations when starting your new career, and they will serve you well as you progress from ambitious associate to successful partner.