There are obvious and very important factors for success as an associate, which include a good working knowledge of the law, an ability to apply legal concepts to factual situations and a capacity to communicate clearly and effectively in written and oral presentations. If you have those skills, you are already far ahead of the game of practicing law.
However, becoming a winning junior associate requires much more than sheer legal ability. It also includes a variety of more mundane factors which govern how well you adapt to life in the strange environment of a modern law firm. Hardly will anyone tell you these things, but your career can be ruined if you fail to apply these principles successfully.
If you want to succeed as a junior associate, here are the first set of rules you would do well to follow:
1. Be Nice to People.
I’m sure you won’t have a problem with being nice to the partners. They, after all, control your future… at least in the firm. But often times, an associate may act as if it is beneath his or her station in life to treat secretaries, clerks, court reporters, bailiffs and other support personnel with the respect and friendliness they deserve.
But be careful if you do. These people operate the machinery of the legal system. From a purely selfish standpoint, they can do amazing favors for you when it comes to obtaining an emergency appointment or working late to get out a particularly important information. If they dislike you, they can block and impede your efforts. In actual fact, you need them more than they need you.
2. Help Your Other Associates.
You are all in this together. While you are also in competition with the other associates to become a partner, it is a competition based entirely upon your own efforts. Usually, no one ever became a partner because another associate failed. When an associate is jammed with an emergency project, be willing to help out with his or her cases. There will come a time when you will need the favour returned.
3. Resist The Urge To Run Away From Mundane Tasks.
As a junior associate, you will have an army of helpers at your command. There is a strong tendency to let it get into your head and think that you can abandon all responsibility for those sorts of administrative chores. Pitch in and help in an emergency. This is because a time will come when you are to assume responsibility for a final product. Think of it, if a court paper is filed with an upside-down exhibit, who do you think will get the blame?
4. Don’t Settle For 99%.
This is very important. Your goal should be to do everything within reason to produce a complete product. A good rule of thumb to follow is that a partner should never have to do anything except sign his or her name. Thus, if a partner asks you to prepare a report for a client, don’t just hand in the finished report. Include an internal memo requesting for funds to send the report to the client. The partner will be impressed at your initiative and thankful that you have saved his or her time. Be ready to go the extra mile.
5. Look and Act Like a Lawyer.
There is a certain uniform style and set of mannerisms which most successful lawyers share. That’s why you can always spot them. Every institution tends to hire and reward people who look exactly like the members of that institution, but some associates, by background or inclination, come into a law firm not knowing what the rules are or determined to preserve their own unique style.
Sorry, but the Rules prevail and those Rules are conservative. Suits (preferably black, blue or grey) and ties for the men. Tailored suits with a minimum of jewelry for the women. No permed hair for the men. No dangling earrings for the women. In case of doubt, dress and act like the senior partners do. It may seem like a trivial or obvious matter, but it counts more than you might expect.
In many respects, a law firm is an exclusive club with its own unique initiation rites and unspoken code of conduct. The sooner that you learn those unwritten rules, the sooner you will be on your way to becoming the wealthy, famous and powerful attorney that your parents always meant for you to be.
In my next post, I will share will you additional ‘rules to follow.’ With these few, you can already set yourself apart as a stellar junior associate once you start implementing them immediately in your firm.