Becoming an Exceptional Law Firm Associate

As September nears, you’re getting both excited and nervous!  You’re just about to start your new job as a law firm associate.  You survived college and law school!  You landed yourself the perfect summer position with a great law firm during your second year of law school, you successfully managed the summer associate process – received an offer for a full-time position after law school, and, now, you even survived and passed the bar!  Before going into a career in law, you knew that being a passionate, bold and logical person were unwritten requirements of the job. But, what else do you need to be an exceptional law firm associate?

Now is not the time to suddenly become a wallflower. Your legal career is just getting started and below are a couple of great tips that will help you be the best you can be!

  • Make the Partners Look Good – Know Your Case

First and foremost, make the partners look good by taking ownership of your projects – know the law and the facts of the case!  As an associate, you will be the person who is deeply embedded into the details of a particular lawsuit. The partner will be depending on you to give him or her advice about the case. Do not let him or her down.  It is your job to make the partners look good by knowing the law and the facts of your case. For that very reason, be careful not to give the attorneys you work with false information because they probably do not have the time to check the specifics. Plus, it gives you the chance to show off your expertise regarding your assignment.

  • Ask Questions

No matter where you are in life, asking questions is always encouraged. More commonly than not, associates can feel afraid and uncomfortable once they have landed jobs at their law firms. Thus, asking questions to ensure that you understand the material, such as your assignments, is viewed as a good quality. It is better to pester someone with questions than to wait until the last minute when a serious issue pops up.

  • Perfect Your Skills

Another obvious way to gain some attention from your superiors is to perfect the basic work you have been doing thus far. Once you have accomplished that, then take on more responsibilities. Initiative is an attractive quality and anyone will be impressed by your enthusiasm for wanting to contribute more (Rodriguez).

  • Be Available

Impress members of your firm by being available. Be sure to check your email and voicemail messages constantly, especially at night and on the weekends. Do not be surprised to find yourself working on weekends and during night hours. So, it is best to be prepared to work longer hours whenever necessary.

  • Communicate Availability

Furthermore, it is strongly encouraged that you set up an out of office notification whenever you are on vacation, in a court or a deposition, so that people who need you will realize when you will be getting back to them. But otherwise, make it a habit to respond immediately to other attorneys’ inquiries.

  • Understand the Billing Process

Additionally, learn to be a pro at reviewing bills. It can be a boring task, as reviewing one bill can take hours; but, make sure that your time entries do not have spelling errors and include the required specifics. Familiarize yourself with your clients’ policies regarding outside counsel bills.

  • Accept Work

This may seem like a no-brainer, but stay clear of turning down work. By taking on your assigned tasks (and possibly more), you can prove to the partner that you are dedicated and well equipped to handle almost anything that is thrown at you.

The partner has asked you to do the work because he or she believes that you can. By refusing an assignment, the partner now has to do the work or find someone else to do the task. Chances are, the partner does not want to put in the effort for either of those alternatives. Avoid putting him or her in that type of situation.

  • Manage Your Schedule

On the other hand, if you have way too much on your plate, do not be afraid to say so. Turning down work is not a great choice. But, accepting assignments while being fully aware that there is a possibility that they will be late or will not be showcasing your full potential is much worse. The partner will be much more upset with that sort of outcome.

Sometimes, if your work is that important to the partner, he or she could talk to the other partners that you’ve been working with and rearrange your work schedule. Or you could have someone else ready to take on your upcoming load and it will become one less problem to worry about. The partner will be grateful that you thought things through before refusing your work.

  • Have an Opinion

Have a voice and speak your mind. Being a law associate does not mean you have to lose all your opinions.

Do not over do it though. Say how you feel once and then move on. There are many “right” ways to handle an obstacle and you may not like how a certain partner handles the given circumstances. But, no one really likes the law firm associate who frequently states his or her opinions at any given chance.

The only time where it is acceptable to state your opinion multiple times is when ethics are in question. Many lawyers know how to deal with the ethical requirements, so that situation will rarely happen (Callahan).

  • Be Observant

Attempt to be observant. Analyze the abilities and approaches of the associates who make partner at the firm. Adopt some of his or her mindset, without losing your uniqueness.

  • Network

Network. This cannot be stressed enough. Networking is very valuable for any successful career. You won’t develop business with many clients just by sitting behind your desk. Put yourself out there; make people come to you when they need help, not to your colleague.

  • Learn to Love Language

Lastly, partners appreciate people who read, write, and speak well (Harrington). The world of law is all about words and how you use them. Language is a powerful weapon, one that can either hinder or unleash justice. How you use this power can make or break your law career.

Standing out does not have to be a complicated process. You just have to be proactive and put your best self forward.

Good luck!!


Works Cited

Callahan, Steven. “Twelve Tips to Become a Great Law Firm Associate.” Northern District of Texas Blog. Northern District of Texas Blog, 5 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Harrington, Jay. “17 Things I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Associate – Attorney at Work.” Attorney at Work. Attorney at Work, 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Rodriguez, Juan Carlos. “The 7 Essential Rules For Ambitious Associates.” Law 360. Law 360, 30 July 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.



Jacqueline Hill, Esq.

This post was written by .

Jacqueline Hill is a partner at Lexacount Search, where she places top senior-level and other legal talent with law firms and corporate legal departments across the United States. She has been writing about careers, lawyers, attorney professional development, and the legal industry for more than a decade. She can be reached at or 215-740-0104, extension 101.

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