Six Simple Rules Every Associate Should Follow

Six Simple Rules Every Associate Should Follow For Law Firm Success!

Are you a first-year or a junior associate who just started with your full-time law firm associate position?  If you are, do you have a ton of questions about how to be a successful associate?  If you do, you are not alone!  All first-year and new associates have some questions, and everyone needs a little advice!  The most successful associates get the answers to their questions as quickly as they can from senior attorney mentors, research, hard work, modeling, and mentoring.  Those associates who struggle, often, try to go it alone.  To make your first years as an associate as fruitful as possible, here are six simple rules every associate should follow.  And, while this list below does not have every key to success, it does contain what we consider to be among the most valuable tips.  As a young associate, if you keep these factors in mind, success will not be far behind.

  1. Your Work Must Be Perfect

First and foremost, you must be an outstanding associate.  That means you must produce outstanding work.  There is no substitute.  Having outstanding or perfect work means going beyond the obvious of merely having proofread your assignment.  Instead, it means that you have to understand your project, identify what the senior attorneys expect as to deliverables, and, then turn in the best work you can.  As to substance, your understanding of the law and your research must be exhaustive. You must know the law backwards and forwards.  Once you have the substance of the law mastered, you also must produce a memo or other product that is perfect.  In other words, you must be right on the substance and perfect in formatting.  If your work product isn’t perfect, first on formatting, partners and those more senior to you will doubt the substance of your work and will fear that you are an unreliable associate.   If your work is perfect as you can make it in both substance and format, you are on the path to being a successful associate.

  1. Offer Solutions, Not Just Problems

When you are assigned to a team or are assigned a specific project, know and understand your role.  As a junior associate, your role is to try to anticipate the partner or senior attorneys’ needs, understand the legal issues or problems in a situation, and to provide answers and solutions.  You never want to stop short – you never want to identify the issues only and then expect those senior to you to have answers to the problems you presented.  If you have anticipated an issue, it is important to have an answer.  In the event you can’t find the answer, still try to anticipate what those who are more senior to you might need – you can utilize your critical thinking skills and abilities to outline the research and brainstorm to identify possible solutions.

  1. Own All of Your Projects

When a partner or a senior attorney assigns a project to you, own the project!  What exactly does that mean?  That means, when given a project, you must learn and understand everything that you can about the facts, the background, and the law that have led up to your role and then you must find the answer.  Fundamentally, it means, you need to become a short-term expert on the answers to the question that was posed to you – Indeed, you must make yourself essential to the team.  Although it may seem like you are only dealing with a small part of a case or a minuscule part of a deal and what you do doesn’t matter, know that it does.  Each partner or senior attorney is depending you to come through for the team!

  1. Try Not to Say No

If at all possible, say yes!  Say yes to everything – To most assignments, team meetings, social events, and administrative or firm citizenship opportunities, etc.  If you do, you will learn more, you will become an essential member of the team and the firm community, and you will meet more partners and some of those partners may be VIPs.  If you say no, there’s a chance that you won’t be asked again – across any of the subjects.  That is a position that you do not want.  If you have to say no, because you are working at capacity, try to figure out a way to make your no a yes.  Perhaps you can say that you can’t work on a project in the next 24-48 hours, but, that you have time after that, etc.  To the extent you can, stay positive and enthusiastic!  You want to stay on the A-List for Firm asks!

  1. Create Relationships

Understand that the legal profession is one of networks and relationships.  The more that partners and other senior attorneys know you, the more who know that your work is outstanding, and know that you are a hard worker, the more opportunities will come to you.  Further, the more partners who know you, the better protected you will be if you make a serious mistake.  All associates make mistakes, every once in a while.  The more connections that you have with partners and senior attorneys the less devastating or more recoverable a mistake will be.

  1. Be Visible

As a new attorney, you have to network in the firm and out.  In the firm, you can’t create relationships or an internal network if you are in your office where nobody can see you.   If you aren’t the type to be visible, consider asking to move to the part of the firm where the majority of your practice area is or where there is a hub of activity with important decision-makers.  In fact, in a law firm, it is the exact opposite of “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.”  Indeed, often, with proximity comes assignments and social connection and success.

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Are you a new law firm first-year or junior associate?  Are you interested in exploring you best path to success as a law firm associate with these tips?  If so, contact a Career Counselor with Lexacount Search’s Career Consulting Services.  Or, if you are seeking a position as a lawyer or legal assistant, contact a Search Consultant from Lexacount Search’s Legal Group.

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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