The New Associate's Survival Guide via Law360

Posted on 05-12-2016 by
Tags: millenniallawyer , Trending News & Topics , LIT

The article below has been republished in full courtesy of Law360, written by Keith Goldberg.

Starting a professional career can be a daunting experience for even the most confident law school graduates. Here, attorneys share several ways for newly minted associates to not only survive those first few months and years at their new firms, but also thrive.

Throw Yourself Into Your Practice

Associates need to take ownership of their careers the moment they walk through the doors of their new firms, attorneys say.

That means going the extra mile to learn about the industries they're representing or the laws and regulations that guide their practice areas, said Greenberg Traurig LLP shareholder Michael Aguirre, who helps recruit and guide new associates at the firm's Phoenix office.

"You'll do that in the projects you're assigned, but to the extent you're reading journals that might have information about what you're doing, you're doing a really deep dive," Aguirre said. "The more skills and knowledge base you build as a young attorney will better suit you as you develop your practice."

To that end, associates should consider every assignment a learning opportunity, said Moore & Van Allen PLLC commercial litigator M. Cabell Clay, who started at the firm right out of law school and was elevated to a member earlier this year.

"When you first start out at a firm coming from law school, you don't know much about physically practicing law," she said. "If you treat everything as an opportunity to be learned from, that attitude and approach to any assignment not only helps you do good work, but also makes you more pleasurable to work with."

Develop Good Work Habits

Ultimately, new associates are going to sink or swim on the quality of their work, attorneys say.

"If you don't do good work, no other piece of advice matters," Clay said.

That's why it's crucial for associates to quickly develop the habits that allow them to do good work, attorneys say. That covers big-picture things like properly managing time and developing the ability to juggle multiple projects to more mundane tasks such as proofreading documents.

"Once you develop those good habits, those habits will stay with you throughout your practice," Aguirre said. "If you develop bad habits, they're harder for you to change."

New associates should ensure they're always working toward becoming more efficient, and ultimately, more profitable, according to Todd Fredrickson, the managing partner of the Denver office of employment firm Fisher & Phillips LLP. It isn't just about mastering practices, it's also about mastering the standards and requirements laid out by firms.

"You'd be amazed at the number of associates I talk to who can't recite the basic requirements of their firm," Fredrickson said. "It's so easy to skip over the easy stuff because you're so consumed with the particulars of your practice. That's a mistake."

Be a Team Player

Whether it's the most senior partner at the firm, a paralegal or someone who works in the mailroom, new associates who treat everyone with the same level of respect will build a strong support system to fall back if they encounter any early career potholes, attorneys say.

"Having everyone on your team and having everyone willing to help you and provide advice to you can really make or break your career," Clay said. "When I started fresh out of the law school, my assistant, who I still work with today, had 25 years of experience. Getting her knowledge on how to set up my office and make sure I'm organized was really invaluable, and we have built a great long-term relationship."

Associates who are enthusiastic about their work and willing to go the extra mile for colleagues leave bigger impressions on the more senior lawyers they work for, attorneys say.

"That's something you see younger associates struggle with, taking that next step," Aguirre said. "When you're a young associate, your clients are the attorneys that you are working for. The better job you can do about being adaptable to their specific needs and how they do things, the smoother your career path will be."

Find a Mentor

Many law firms will assign senior lawyers to mentor new associates, but attorneys say some of the most invaluable relationships are sparked when associates on their own find people at their firms who are willing to help them.

It's critical to find senior attorneys who are willing to mentor and teach, not just assign projects, according to Aguirre.

"There are so many things to navigate as a young associate," Aguirre said. "It's not just about the project that's in front of you, it's also about interacting with other attorneys and clients. You have to really learn from the people who have already done it."

One way to suss out a potential mentor is to constantly ask for feedback, according to Clay. Any senior attorney can send a marked-up document back to an associate ordering changes, for example, but the attorneys that are willing to take the time to explain why those changes are necessary might be mentor material.

By asking for feedback, "you can find out who's willing to teach," Clay said. "Frankly, some attorneys don't have that desire, it's not in their skill set to mentor and teach."

Keep an Eye on Developing Business

New associates are so focused on developing their legal skills that it can be easy to overlook the development of their business skills, attorneys say. After all, law firms aren't nonprofits.

"Develop a book, and it makes you more necessary as part of a firm and more crucial to the firm's future," Fredrickson said.

Knowing how to develop work at an early career stage is vital to long-term success, he said. Associates need to think about what their business development plans are going to look like, how much networking time they're willing to put in and how they're going to develop connections within business communities.

Showing your firm that you can bring in business is about self-preservation as much as anything, according to Fredrickson. Firms aren't afraid to cut attorneys in order to reduce costs, especially after the recent recession.

"Lawyers who are just the minders and grinders are the first to go," Fredrickson said. "The folks who were responsible for finding work and building books of businesses were the ones that were maintained."

The above article has been republished in full and is courtesy of Law360. For the latest breaking news and analysis on energy industry legal issues, visit Law360 today.

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