You’ve graduated law school and landed your dream job at a law firm. Now, how do you embark on your legal career to make your dreams come true? How do you distinguish yourself to become the highly sought after star associate? These are questions that many new lawyers struggle with and often cannot answer.
Here are three best practices that you should consider to get noticed by the people who can put you on a track for success in your career:
Find Your Passion
The first challenge is to find work in an area of the law about which you are passionate. I’ve seen junior associates start at our firm believing that they want to pursue a career in litigation because they loved moot court in law school only to find that the nuts and bolts of litigation work is a total turnoff. They fall into an abyss of document review and leave with few marketable skills because they were not excited by the work they were doing.
I’ve also seen junior lawyers who think they would dislike doing ERISA work because their law school professor was boring only to find that their detail-oriented personality makes them a perfect fit for Executive Compensation and Benefits work when they give it a try.
After working in Big Law for more than two decades, I have seen one constant recipe for success among junior associates: be available to take work from a wide variety of sources.
The point is that your first few years of practice should be spent exploring different practice areas so that you can find the area that you will still love thinking about and working on 10 years into your career. Passion for your work shines through and is noticed by others who share your passion.
Be Open for Business
After working in Big Law for more than two decades, I have seen one constant recipe for success among junior associates: be available to take work from a wide variety of sources. Say yes to assignments within your practice group. Say yes to assignments outside of your practice group. Say yes to preparing a deck of slides for a new pitch. Come to the office and find work from hallway interactions (that is how I received some of my most interesting projects as a junior lawyer).
Don’t work from home even if others around you are, and the firm says it’s okay to do so. In the early stages of your career, you need to create buzz around your name. The best way to do that is to work with different people and put yourself in a position where people can associate your name with your face.
Dare to Suggest and Be Wrong
Another distinguishing factor between the star associate and others is that the star is doing more than the project assigned. The star associate does not just complete the research, she also makes a recommended next step. For example, if you are asked to research the prima facie elements for slander because things have gotten ugly in a case, don’t just provide a memo that lays out the elements in perfect prose. When handing in the memo, ask whether the assigning attorney would like you to prepare the motion to amend and the draft amended complaint. Or, when completing a diligence review on a deal, prepare the schedule of risks that should be communicated to the other side which resulted from your review.
The best part of this proactive behavior is that even if your recommendation is dead wrong, you will make a positive impression on your supervisor as someone who is deeply investing in the matter and is trying to add value. And a nice bonus is that, if your approach is wrong, you’ll learn why and be better prepared to handle the next matter.