1. Decide on a Mentor.
Frankly, it never hurts to become the protégée of one of the law firm’s more powerful partners. You can learn a lot just by watching such a lawyer at work, and he or she will help you as you advance along the partnership track.
Choose wisely. Ideally, your mentor should practice in an area of the law which interests you, and it will help that your personalities should be compatible. After a while, you should have a clear conception of where the true power centers lie. Gravitate towards it.
Be careful, however, not to become one partner’s exclusive property. This happens a lot because partners regard bright and compatible associates as worth their weight in gold, and they therefore tend to monopolize their services and skills. Your talents must be clear to a range of different partners if you are to have a good chance of becoming a partner yourself. One partner can sometimes make the difference, but there is always the danger that that partner may leave the firm or change his or her opinion about you. In other words, don’t put your eggs in a single basket.
2. Guard Your Reputation at All Costs.
Unfortunately, there are lawyers whose ethical standards are not what they should be. Sometimes, these lawyers attempt to enlist the aid of a junior associate in their unprofessional activities. If a partner ever asks you to back-date a certificate of service, for example, refuse absolutely to do so. There are certain things which you cannot and must not do.
And begin circulating your resume. This is not the law firm where you want to spend the rest of your career. The job market may be tight, but your professional reputation is essentially all that you have. These things get around, and unethical practices tend to slander even the innocent like yourself.
3. Don’t Let Clients Control Matters of Professional Courtesy.
It is understandable that clients tend to become emotionally involved in their cases. They will usually want you to treat litigation as a matter of war. Don’t succumb to the pressure of your client insisting that you treat opposing counsel with less courtesy. Thus, you should never sacrifice professional courtesy just to satisfy a client’s lust for hardball tactics. Clients come and go, but opposing counsels stay around forever.
4. Get Comfortable With Letting the Partner Take the Credit.
Let’s say the Judge has just granted your motion for summary judgment. Informing a client of a major victory is one of the most rewarding aspects of practicing law. Resist the urge to pick up the phone. What you should do instead is to advise the partner in charge of the case and let him or her have the pleasure of calling the client. Is this unfair? Of course it is. But you are better off winning points within the law firm than basking in the very temporary praise of a temporary client.
5. Keep Your Mouth Shut.
Most law firms are hotbeds of gossip and political intrigue. Stay away. Do not ever engage in gossip or the spreading of rumors. It may be a fun thing to do, but more than one associate has gone off the partnership track because of an unwise comment or the repetition of a particularly juicy bit of scandal.
At the same time, keep your eyes and ears open. You will learn a lot about the internal operation of the firm if you simply watch and listen carefully as a silent observer. You should endeavor to develop a reputation as a person who can keep confidences. If you ever lose that reputation, then you’ve lost it forever.
6. Practice Good Telephone Habits.
This is not just about speaking clearly or picking up the telephone promptly; you already know that. There are certain techniques to using the telephone in a business context which you should learn to apply religiously. For example, many people think that it is impressive to have all of their telephone calls placed by a secretary. It isn’t. In reality, you usually gain a tactical advantage if you make your telephone calls yourself. At a minimum, your secretary should never place a call to a judge’s chambers; it is, after all, a chance to curry favor with the judge’s secretary or bailiff and why waste such the opportunity?