Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The social environment of a law firm is unique. It may include elements of the schools you attended and the early jobs you had, and perhaps even some parts of your family life. But none of these experiences will fully prepare you for the complex, seemingly mysterious world of a law firm. In this unique environment, it is tempting to seek a simple path. For many new lawyers, the simple path is hard work. Stay in your office and do what you are told, some junior lawyers assume, and eventually all will be well. But a law firm is not an assembly line; it functions on relationships. Senior lawyers have relationships with clients, which must be cultivated and maintained through frequent contacts and communications. Many senior lawyers place the development of client relationships on a par with their top professional priorities. For junior lawyers, similarly, establishing and maintaining relationships within the firm must be a top priority. You may be brilliant, hard-working, conscientious, and capable of developing into an excellent, full-fledged lawyer, but if you are invisible to most of the firm your long-term success may be in jeopardy. Here are a few basic keys to ensure that you develop visibility within your firm. START AT YOUR LEVEL Begin with your own class of associates. If you were law school classmates together, or members of the same summer associate class, you may already know some of them. Build on any relationships you already have — or if you know no one, start getting to know as many of your peers as you can. Your goals may be modest: Everyone in your class should at least know your name, something of your background, and your areas of interest at the firm. You should know the same things about everyone else at your level. If you had a question about firm policies or senior lawyers, for example, you should feel comfortable discussing it with anyone in your class, and they with you. If you have a more substantive question (about the law in an area, about getting help on a project, or about a particular client), you should have some idea whether one of your classmates could help you. Often, of course, because you are all new lawyers, your classmates may not be able to help. Herein lies the value of getting to know more senior lawyers. It is not, however, simply a matter of improving your ability to draw on the advice and assistance of more senior lawyers. During the early years of practice, senior lawyers are your clients (and potential clients), so developing positive relationships with them should be among your top immediate professional goals. BUILD A GOOD REPUTATION Get to know the supervisors in your practice group. Be aware of their needs. For them, a key attribute for a junior lawyer is a willingness and ability to pitch in on projects, often at crisis times, and often at the last minute. A reputation as a reliable, competent, “can do” team player will generally stand you in very good stead with these supervisors. A reputation as someone who consistently turns down work, whines about the quality of assignments, or invents excuses whenever problems arise on a project will have the opposite effect. Beyond developing a generally positive reputation with your group supervisors, your goal should be to start getting referrals of work from many senior lawyers in your group (and eventually even outside your group). Often, such referrals can be quite casual. One senior lawyer may ask another, “Do you know of a good junior person who can handle this project?” You never know when or where such a conversation will take place, but you certainly can influence what others think of you, and what they say to others about you. Keep in mind that every project, no matter how dull or tedious it seems to you, is important to the lawyer who assigned it to you. Approach each assignment with the internal question: Would you be willing to stake your professional reputation on an assessment of how well you performed on this project? Good service on a particular project plants a seed in the supervising lawyer’s mind. The next time an appropriate project arises (often, more sophisticated and interesting than the first project), that lawyer is likely to call on you again. And when questions of staffing come from other senior lawyers, the lawyer who has had good experiences with you on prior projects is likely to recommend you. PARTICIPATE IN TEAM MEETINGS Take steps to ensure that those above you in the hierarchy of your project teams and practice group have some idea of your capabilities and interests. One of the simplest ways to get exposure to more senior lawyers is to ask to participate in the team meetings and conference calls that often occur on large projects. Generally, just being recognized as a member of the team (because you are present at the meeting or sitting in on the conference call) may give a boost to your reputation within the group. Another opportunity for visibility is when a project team reviews the status of work on segments of the overall project. In that situation, you may be recognized as having responsibility for one or more tasks and may even get the chance to describe your work. You need not toot your horn too loudly in such a setting. The point is that the team is putting its trust in you because you are performing well. That implicit point will have an effect on other lawyers no matter what you say (or even how long you talk). Participating in such meetings and conference calls will also help you to understand your work and how it fits into the overall project. You will also learn the important terms and the identity of players involved in the project. And you will gain confidence that you are becoming integrated into the professional activities of the firm, rather than being a mere functionary. MEET AND GREET Visibility, however, is not pure work. Consider also the many social activities that the firm offers during the workday and after hours. These activities provide additional opportunities to meet other lawyers in the firm, to get to know more about them, and to let them get to know you, your interests, and your abilities. The specific form of the activity does not matter. It can be purely social (cocktail receptions and entertainment events, for example), athletic (sports teams and athletic outings), educational (continuing legal education and other training sessions), or administrative (working on a committee or project). Remember that in any of these social settings, your principal goal is to express interest and enthusiasm, rather than making a “hard sell” of yourself. People respond to others who are interested in them, much more than they respond to those who prattle on about themselves. Ask questions of senior lawyers that will allow them to talk first: What are you working on these days? Who do you mostly work with? What do you like most about your work? Once you know something about senior lawyers, and have shown that you are interested in them, you may have occasion to talk about yourself, and perhaps match up some of your own interests and experience with theirs. You may even be able to softly “pitch” them for the possibility of doing some work for them. Even if your conversations are brief, however, you will have learned something about the senior lawyers and will probably have left them with a positive impression. Over time, a series of these kinds of encounters will raise your visibility in the firm. A special note is in order about extremely large law firms (and especially large offices). It is tempting, in this setting, to shut down your socializing instincts. When there are so many lawyers that you cannot imagine getting to know them all, you may just give up. As a result, your social network may be limited to the lawyers on your practice teams and the neighbors on your hall. You may even become reclusive, closing your office door and simply working until it is time to go home. Resist the temptation to give up on meeting people in the firm. Even if the task of getting to know everyone is impossible, making an effort will pay off. It is particularly worthwhile to know lawyers outside your immediate practice group and teams. When you have questions on substantive law outside your area of expertise, you will be glad to have contacts in other areas, to whom you can informally address your questions. And there will be many occasions when a lawyer outside your group may have a question or even a large-scale assignment in your area. By making contacts throughout the office and throughout the firm, you will maximize your ability to perform well, which should enhance your reputation and lead to more responsibility. In short, the more people you know, and the more who know you, the better off you will be. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and co-director of the new associates group there. The views expressed are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to his firm or its clients.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.