What makes young associates stand out as exceptional?
Every junior associate is intelligent, and they have a serious drive to succeed. But every now and then a first-year associate comes along that blows the partners away. This is a young attorney that senior partners want to work with; one that makes their job easier – and better.
What do these standout power associates have that their peers don’t? We’ve listed the Top 10 Habits that make winning associates stand out from the rest.
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6. Create Your Own Workload
Power associates don’t stop with hard work and establishing trust. They seek out what they want to work on. If you’re working on three cases you aren’t that interested in, but see one going on that you find exciting, volunteer to take part in that case. Volunteering to work on cases you find interesting, and doing the work well, eventually morphs your workload into what you want it to be. When you’re working on interesting material, your talent and skill shine through.
Be proactive about this. Don’t wait to be asked to work on something. Find out what’s going on in the firm, take the initiative, and secure a spot on the cases you want. Even better, secure a spot in the areas that others don’t want to work in. Securing a niche within the firm and giving that spot your all will set you apart in no time. The mundane work starts to fade, and the career-changing work begins.
7. Know How to Network
Getting in with a firm’s partner(s) is the ultimate accomplishment. However, young power associates view law firm networking in a different light. They know that the senior partners have worked closely with their team members and the legal community for years – even decades.
Earning the respect of secretaries, legal assistants, paralegals, brief writers, peer associates, senior associates, clerks, bailiffs, and opposing counsel is key to impressing senior partners – and making associate life easier.
These people know how the law firm and partners operate. They can teach you various computer programs and legal procedures, review your materials, connect you with important players, help you with last-minute meetings, supply urgent demands, or even offer emotional support. Likewise, if they don’t like you, they can hinder your productivity.
You may not work with senior partners directly at first, but say hello whenever you get the chance. Go to firm events and socialize with them when you can. Don’t shy away from an experienced partner that has a reputation for being difficult. Average junior associates flock to the friendly partners. Power associates want to learn from the best, no matter what.
Finally, if you find yourself in the midst of a gossip session, you can listen - but don’t speak. It can be tempting to join in the fun and badmouth a judge, make fun of another associate, or spread some juicy news you think is important. Don’t do it. Spreading rumors can destroy careers faster than anything else. It will ruin any semblance of trust you have worked so hard to establish.
8. Find an Experienced Mentor
Young associates learn the most from watching and working closely with an experienced higher-up. Whether a senior associate or partner, a good informal mentor can teach you the ropes, critique your work, introduce you to important contacts, and help you get in on important cases.
Don’t rush the decision on who you want to work with as a mentor. Take a good four to six months to feel out potential mentors. Select a talented senior associate or driven partner that you mesh well with, and make sure they’re working within your field of interest, and are planning on sticking around for the next four to five years.
Once you choose, be sure to work with your mentor as an equal. Don’t downplay your talents and insight to boost a mentor’s ego. Again, approach it like a veteran. You are a colleague, not a student.
Don’t be afraid to work closely with others after you’ve chosen a mentor. Continue to offer help with other partners on other cases. At no point should you limit your exposure or experience to your mentor’s projects only. Your mentor is simply there as a sounding board, teacher, and career advisor.
9. Organize Your Personal Life
For those who want to stand out, much of your focus must be on work for at least the first six to 10 months. Life during law school might have allowed for daily gym workouts, Wednesday afternoon soccer practice, Saturday hiking trips, and winter vacation, but first-year associate life is different.
Standout associates are available to put in serious work at the drop of a hat. Planning ahead for this reality can help you avoid disappointment and distraction. Let family and friends know in advance that you won’t be free to travel or participate in scheduled extracurricular activities for the next 10 months.
Try not to schedule time off for as long as possible during the first year, if at all. If you do need to take time off, try taking two four-day weekends rather than a two-week stretch. Always give at least 30 days’ notice when possible.
Free time is limited, so prioritize those things that are important to your mental health. Hire a housekeeper, pet sitter, laundry service, and groundskeeper to make time to go to the gym once or twice a week, enjoy family and friends, read a good book, and sleep.
10. Arrange a Productive Home Office
Having a nice home office can make a big difference for junior associates. A comfortable home office motivates you to stay productive while away from the firm. It also lets friends and family know your work is important to you, eliminating the potential for disputes and distractions.
Splurge on a large, professional desk and desk chair, good lighting, a nice computer, sturdy filing cabinets, attractive plants, and framed family photos. Purchase a good headset, office supplies, and any software or apps you like to work with.
Some new lawyers like to include a coffee maker or mini fridge in their home office. Keep in mind that having to make trips to the kitchen for coffee and snacks can force you to take much-needed breaks. You’ll need an excuse to get up and walk around.
Home office enthusiasts may also suggest a small sofa, pillows, and a nice big screen TV. This is great for short breaks and napping. Just make sure your office isn’t in danger of becoming a leisure room.
Power associates offer law firms a unique, valuable mix of intelligence, humility, optimism, and drive that senior partners can’t resist. These rare individuals impact every case they participate in, often exposing aspects others – even partners – would have missed. They look for challenges and thrive on solving difficult problems.
Not everyone wants to achieve power associate status, and that’s fine. It is entirely possible to be a successful lawyer without being the standout junior associate in your law firm. But if you do choose to head down the path of associate superstardom, mastering these Top 10 Habits of Power Law Associates will help get you there.