April 2015Volume 59Number 5PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

How to be an asset to your firm

Most of us know what to expect when we begin working at a law firm as a young associate: long hours filled with legal research and endless drafting. However, just writing amazing briefs will not give you job security. With a volatile economy where clients are quick to take their business to a competing firm, there are certain steps you can take to make yourself invaluable and irreplaceable.

1. Become an expert

The law is vast and constantly changing. Partners rely on associates to help them stay on top of the law so that they can give clients appropriate advice. If there is an area of the law you have an affinity toward, study it and become an expert. Partners will come to rely on your for assistance in that area. If the area happens to be one where the firm’s needs are unmet, even better! You’ve just added value.

2. Think like a partner

When given an assignment, don’t just do the work—own it. Learn the facts of the case, understand the client’s needs, think critically, analyze, and come up with solutions. This exercise will not only help you become a more skillful lawyer, but will also allow you to better anticipate the partner’s needs. You may be able to devise some alternative solutions for the partner that may better serve the client. If you fully understand the facts and the client, you’ll also likely do a better job on the assignment. In turn, the partner will begin to trust you and will give you more independence to manage cases as you see fit. You may even be looked to for advice and suggestions on strategy.

3. Remember, everyone is your client

Think about the way you approach a client. Now apply that to everyone around you—the partners you work with, your fellow associates, the mail clerk, even people you meet outside your firm. There’s no higher compliment than when a client tells a partner at your firm that they liked working with you, except when attorneys outside your firm approach your boss to tell them how wonderful you are! If you treat everyone with respect and work to meet their needs, you will develop a solid reputation that will get you noticed. You’ll form a good impression with your boss and build a distinguished reputation that will help your career for years to come.

4. Build relationships now

Unfortunately, many associates focus so much on writing the best brief and billing the most hours that they neglect building and maintaining relationships. Once they make partner, they fail because they have no network to build business. Get out there, attend professional events, and stay in touch with those you meet. At the same time, maintain the old relationships you have. You never know: your old buddy from high school may end up inventing the next Facebook and call on you to be her lawyer.

5. Take initiative

Firm billing processes not efficient? Firm not taking advantage of cost-saving technologies? Do you have a way to fix that? Do it! Just because you are near the bottom of the totem pole does not mean that you can’t find meaningful ways to contribute to the firm. When you see holes that need fixing, take the initiative to come up with a fix. Most likely, the partner will greatly appreciate your efforts. Taking initiative will demonstrate that you genuinely care for the success of the firm and that you have more than just legal skills to contribute.

6. Don’t let your leadership skills get rusty

In law school, there were plenty of opportunities to lead. However, as a young associate, you may have little opportunity to manage a case or project. Hence, you need to work harder to find opportunities to exercise your leadership skills and keep them sharp. Joining a non-profit board or professional organization is a great way to use and improve your leadership skills, while building your reputation and network. This way, when an opportunity to take the lead on a matter comes your way at work, you will be confident and prepared to take charge.

Generally, approach your work like you have an ownership interest, not as though you are just there to complete a task. Regardless of whether you aspire to stay with your firm in the long-run, these skills will help propel you to wherever you want to be and make you a better lawyer for your clients. ■

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