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.
1. Adopt the Dress Code
It may be surprising that I’m listing the style factor first, but let’s be honest - power associates look the part. First impressions are critical, and appearance makes a huge difference. At its core, the practice of law is traditional and reserved. Unlike other professions that reward fashion-forward, trendy dress, the power associate is rewarded for how well they get the uniform. If you haven’t got the uniform down, you’re going to struggle.
Unfortunate young associates make some common style mistakes, many of which can be blamed on mainstream media. Males might assume a more casual look is friendlier and more approachable, opting for a “golf-afternoon” button down and slacks. Others may think a colorful vest, alligator loafers, and a glistening pocket watch will get them noticed. Female associates have the same problem. They often assume a bright colored suit, full glam makeup, and flashy jewelry exudes self-confidence and power.
Stay away from these extremes. Proper style for an associate is simple. Men should start with a navy blue or charcoal suit and tie, and clean cut hair. Women should wear tailored suits, nicely groomed hair, simple makeup, and minimal jewelry. If in doubt, dress like the senior members of your firm. Recovering from a bad first impression can be difficult. So don’t make it. Use your work ethic and talent to stand out, not your outfit.
2. Approach it Like a Veteran
New law school grads may feel humbled walking into a firm as low man on the totem pole. Power associates get rid of this attitude before they step through the door. You may be a junior associate, but mentally, you should be an established lawyer. Partners want self-motivated associates who can benefit a case. This means analyzing your assignments critically, knowing every fact, predicting problems, and suggesting solutions.
Partners want self-motivated associates who can benefit a case.
Take initiative. Do what you think the case needs on your own. Feel free to speak up on issues you think need work. Always keep your focus on the good of the case, not on how intelligent you look. As a first-year associate, your superiors don’t expect perfection. You aren’t expected to know the law firm playing field. Law school doesn’t teach it, and your superiors know that. Initiative is what your superiors want to see.
3. Work Hard and Smart
Sounds cliché right? But hard work is the number one habit that distinguishes power associates from their peers. Give your all to each assignment. Be willing to come in early, stay late, and take your work home if necessary. Don’t just put in long hours to give the appearance of being a hard worker, but actually spend each moment on your assignments.
More hours does not equal hard work. Partners measure hard work by how your work affects each case. Five hours of focused, critical analysis can influence a case more than 20 hours of inattentive, distracted work. Hard work means shutting off social media, putting all other tasks aside, and delaying email replies and phone calls to dive fully into a project.
Understand how your assignments fit into the big picture and use this knowledge to prioritize your workload. Finishing a task shouldn’t be your goal. Instead, focus on the end objective. This allows you to uncover ideas and approaches others might miss. Power associates understand why they are doing a job, not just what they must do.
It’s also important to fully complete your work. Busy partners and staff don’t want to have to edit minor errors, locate contact information, or print required copies. When you hand over an assignment, it should be complete – right down to the cover page. Partners want a reliable, thorough associate who takes each assignment to the next level.
Finally, enjoy your work. If you’re asked to stay an extra two hours, get excited. Maintain a positive attitude. Partners and senior associates want to work with people who motivate them, avoiding associates who appear tired or unenthused. Your attitude impacts everyone around you. Grab a coffee, keep your energy up, and boost team morale – even at 3 am.
4. Handle Mistakes Properly
With such high-level initiative right out of the gate, power associates are bound to make plenty of mistakes. What sets them apart is how they deal with these situations. How an associate handles errors is as important as how hard they work.
First and foremost, never try to hide a mistake. It will be discovered, and you may never recover. Immediately share your concerns about potential errors with the superior you work most closely with.
Second, never try to defend yourself or place the blame on someone else – even if someone else is responsible. No matter the circumstances, you are to blame for your own mistakes. Take ownership of any errors. Don’t make up excuses and don’t point fingers. True leaders know they are responsible for any mistakes their team make.
Third, implement changes so that the same mistake doesn’t happen again. Listen to advice and criticism and learn from it. Correct whatever you can immediately, and change whatever practice allowed the mistake to occur. Power associates know how to accept a mistake, fix it and move on.
5. Take on All Opportunities
As a junior associate, the workload can get demanding to say the least. Power associates continue to take whatever they’re offered. While this concept can seem overwhelming and counterproductive, it doesn’t have to be. As long as you prioritize your workload according to the big picture, you will be able to take on more than you would think.
Each opportunity – even the seemingly mundane – has the potential to transform your career. Each assignment comes with new contacts, new challenges, and new experiences. Force yourself to break out of your comfort zone. A first-year associate with plans to represent defective products cases may end up a superstar in medical malpractice. Power associates know this and they never limit themselves by turning down opportunities.
Speaking of seemingly mundane work, you will see plenty of it as a first-year associate. What sets power associates apart, is their willingness to accept all types of tasks. It’s easy to hand off copy making, memo typing, and coffee trips to staff. But doing these things yourself helps develop trust with the firm. Partners, other associates, and staff see that you treat every task as an important part of the entire machine. When you apply solid, enthusiastic work to the boring stuff, your assignments will become more and more important – and fast.