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Not too long ago, I made partner with my law firm and was put on the “Associates Committee” — our firm’s committee that oversees the progress and advancement of the firm’s associates. Each year we meet for several days and discuss each associate in detail. This new perspective has taught me two things: (1) it is a miracle anyone ever makes it through the associate ranks; and (2) there are several, easily avoidable “sins” that every associate should be aware of in order to stay on track. Here are 10 of them: 1. Billable hours — they rule supreme, but your reputation is more important. Ten years from now people will not remember or care if you billed 2100 vs. 2000 or less hours, but they will remember the quality, and efficiency, of your work. If there is padding or massive write-offs, you may never find forgiveness. 2. Internet — it is a tool for research and work-related projects, not constant entertainment. If you are finding yourself “switching screens” every time a partner walks into your office, you will earn a rap as an ineffective, distracted associate. 3. Door — a closed door will slowly lead an associate out the door. Keep it open unless you really are busy and need complete focus. Partners do not give work to closed doors and wonder, quite vocally with other partners, why the associate is hiding. 4. Attitude — express eagerness and appreciation for new work. Poor or uninterested attitudes lead to poor reviews. You don’t have to fake your emotions, but it is very refreshing from a partner’s perspective when an associate accepts a new project with a good attitude. And associates who do this find that they will stay busy no matter how bleak the economy. 5. Light workload — occasionally, you may ask for work when you are light. Then, suddenly, the work pours in. If that happens, do not give projects back to partners, telling them you are “too busy” now. In fact, never give a project back to a partner except in extreme emergencies. If you do, I guarantee you will receive a poor review. 6. Relationships — romantic office relationships are cute and funny in movies and television, but deadly in real life. Keep romance and work in separate galaxies. 7. Reassigning — don’t reassign one of your projects to another associate unless an unavoidable conflict arises and the partner gives prior approval. Reassigning projects on a whim is a good way to show poor judgment. 8. Bullet writer — this is a skill that sets associates apart. Some associates are gifted and some are diligent. If you fit into either category, you’ll be fine. But if you are not gifted, and you don’t take steps to improve quickly, the writing will be on the wall. While I’m on the topic, don’t e-mail clients like you text your friends — use punctuation and good grammar. 9. Proactive — take the initiative with business development. Waiting for opportunities to do business development — or relying on senior lawyers to provide opportunities — will eventually render you expendable. And do not forget to take the time to develop good relationships with other associates and partners at your firm. Most of the business referrals you will receive in your life will come from those who see your face the most often. 10. Mistakes — everyone makes them. The sooner you confess a mistake, the less likely it will affect you. The longer you wait, the more likely it will lead to your demise. Scott Brown is a partner with Lewis and Roca LLP in Phoenix, Ariz.

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