Congratulations! The hard part is behind you. You survived law school, landed your first job, and passed the bar. Now you can relax, right? While few people will look back on their first year in practice as a relaxing experience, there are some strategies and tips that you can use to make sure that you survive your first year as a law firm associate and come out on top. Hopefully, you’re already doing most of these. If not, here are some gentle reminders that will help you knock it out of the park.
Treat senior associates and partners as your clients
Tailor your work to their expectations, not your own.
There is no such thing as a rough draft
When senior attorneys request a memo or task you with a research assignment, they expect you to send your best work, completely free of typos, grammatical errors, and gaps in your research, the first time. No exceptions.
Understand your firm’s economics and how credit for work is allocated
Then, position yourself to succeed accordingly. Learn how to increase your productivity and effectiveness so that all of your hours truly count.
Search for a sub–specialty
Find ways to become the “go-to” person in a niche area within your general area of practice. Over time, you will begin to distinguish yourself, and partners, senior associates, and clients will look to you first for advice and counsel.
Stay connected with former law school and college classmates
They are not only prospective clients, but can also serve as advocates and referral sources for you as you consider career moves down the road. Put forth an effort to maintain ties and foster relationships instead of letting connections go cold.
Never wait on deadlines
Complete work as it comes in. Maximize your availability and avoid missing deadlines due to intervening “rush work.” Front load your hours when you can to open up your schedule for personal time or last-minute assignments.
Become involved in industry-specific groups with members outside of the legal field
This will allow you to connect with potential clients, develop industry-specific knowledge, stay up-to-date on what’s relevant today, and help you identify future trends.
Find a mentor, both official and unofficial
If you’re at a larger firm, you will likely be assigned a mentor and participate in a formal mentor program. Cherish this relationship, but also make a point to connect with someone else, within your firm or otherwise, who can serve as an alternate advocate and advisor.
Never say “no”
Show initiative. Always agree to take on new projects, but learn to manage your priorities and triage competing deadlines. If you’re not billing enough, ask for more work. Make your availability known to as many partners as possible.
If it feels broken, fix it
If you are feeling dissatisfied, take proactive steps to evaluate why you are unhappy and assess whether and when you can make a change. Is it your practice area? Your firm? Your support system? Something in your personal life? Senior associates, former classmates at other firms, your mentors, and external recruiters are all great resources to help you identify pain points and determine how to work through them.