“Good to Great”: Tips for Becoming a Great Law Firm Associate!

5 Concrete Tips for Becoming a Great Law Firm Associate!

In Good to Great, Jim Collins tackles the issue of corporate success.  He researches and explores the reasons why some corporations “make the leap [to greatness] … and others don’t” (Collins). After years of research, he found that corporations who follow a certain path – take specific development steps – have long-term success and that corporations who do not, eventually fail, or never make it to the next level.  Associate life at Big Law is the same.  Although all associates who are hired have the potential for greatness, some associates make it and some do not.  Like all ambitious young attorneys, you want to ensure that you are one of the associates who does make the transition from a good worker into a go-to, trusted associate and eventually, partner – You want to make the leap from good to great.

So do you accomplish this? How to you make the transition from “good to great” – to being an outstanding law firm associate?  How do you gain the trust of the senior members of your law firm, so that you stand out from everybody else?  What are some of the key success factors that you need?  Below are five ways to become good to great – to becoming an outstanding law firm associate:

#1 – Make Your Work Perfect.

The majority of associates do good work. However, less of them pay close attention to detail. Although this can encompass many different examples, one is preparing drafts.  Never turn in a draft.  A partner reviewing your work will expect your work to be as perfect as it can be – You should turn it in as a final draft.  Or, more egregious, you never want to turn in a draft without citations. Or, turn in a draft with incomplete or inaccurate citations. When a partner delegates drafting work to an associate, it’s expected that the memo is done well – perfect – and cited correctly. But when a poor draft is submitted or a poorly cited memo is presented, the partner is not going to appreciate your otherwise flawless memo. They now have to perform your duties in addition to their own.

#2 – Build a solid reputation for being dependable.

A solid reputation is a ladder for success. Partners need dependable people, so an associate who is consistently present or responsive (even on weekends or late at night) is going to make themselves more valuable. Partners will make an effort to find you, but if they aren’t successful on the first or second try, they’ll find someone else. And more importantly, the next time an emergency situation arises, they will directly approach that “someone else” instead of you. Therefore, it’s important to build a solid reputation for being dependable.

#3 – Be Enthusiastic!

When you enjoy your work and show enthusiasm for it, you typically produce your best results. Who wouldn’t like giving more assignments to associates who show such enthusiasm? The very best associates love their work and are enthusiastic about it. Law firms want people who have a positive attitude and are excited to complete assignments and exceed expectations.

#4 – Always take initiative.

Do more than just the bare minimum, and strive to be a problem solver. There’s nothing worse than somebody who points out problems without also offering up possible solutions. When faced with such a situation, devise solutions and pose them to the supervising attorney. Even if the supervising attorney disagrees with your solutions, your suggestions will show that you’re conscientious and that you understand the bigger picture.

#5 – Work beyond billable hours.

Keep yourself updated with legal news, keep an eye on new laws and rules, and then volunteer to write about them. Show your enthusiasm in pro bono work, as well. These volunteer activities get noticed. More importantly, by going the extra mile, you’ll make an impression more like a partner and less like an associate. Law firms always welcome that kind of “complete package” employee.

Do you want to move from “good to great”?  Need help redefining your own professional development strategies? Learn more about Lexacount Search’s career consulting services here.


[1] Collins, Jim. Good to Great. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. Web.

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 jacqueline.hill@lexacount.com or 215-740-0104, extension 101.

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