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There is a classic question in philosophy as to whether it is better to be good or to be thought good by others. In the context of a law firm, the practical answer is that both elements are critical. The focus of this article, however, is on the latter point, getting the “face time” with senior lawyers necessary to let them come to know who you are and to appreciate your value. Assuming that you are a competent, committed junior lawyer, how do you make sure that senior lawyers — and ultimately clients — recognize your worth? Conversely stated, how do you make sure that senior lawyers will not ignore you, except when you have messed up or they need something from you? Start with the understanding that most senior lawyers are busy people who generally must prioritize their days to get done what needs to be done. Indeed, in the high-speed world of many law firms, the drive is often to eliminate as many things as possible from a given day, such as documents that do not need to be read, and phone calls and e-mails that need not be answered, at least not immediately. Add to that the normal family and social obligations of life, and it may come as no surprise that many senior lawyers will, in fact, ignore junior lawyers unless they have a reason not to do so. QUALITY OF CONTACTS CRUCIAL Next, recognize that it is often not the length of contacts with a senior lawyer that is important, but it is the quality and frequency that will determine the senior lawyer’s impression of you. You can spend an entire day with a senior lawyer at a negotiation or closing, or at a deposition or a trial. If your contact with the senior lawyer is not meaningful, some may not even remember your name after the experience. By contrast, if a senior lawyer sees or hears from you on a regular basis and each time learns something valuable, or at least has a pleasant experience with you, then the senior lawyer will almost inevitably, over time, form a favorable impression of you. Assuming that these basic principles make sense to you, the practical implementation of the principles should be fairly obvious. Pay attention to your general level of interaction with senior lawyers in the firm. Do you spend all or most of your days in your own office? Have you shared a meal with any of the senior lawyers in your group? Do you have some basic understanding (from them) of what kinds of work they do and what clients they have? Do these senior lawyers have some basic understanding (from you) of your talents and interests? Do you know something about their personal lives, and vice versa? Obviously, you need not be a social butterfly, but you should adopt a general goal of having at least enough contact with senior lawyers in the firm to avoid feeling isolated and out of step. You can mark your progress toward that goal by taking some of these practical steps. Assign yourself responsibility for providing the senior lawyers you work with directly periodic updates on what you are doing for them. The function of such updates is generally to make sure they know what you are doing so they can give you directions if necessary. From your perspective, however, such updates can have a number of ancillary benefits. Best case: The senior lawyer recognizes the vital assistance you are providing, and may even tell you so. Intermediate case: the senior lawyer approves what you are doing, perhaps with some additional directions (or more work assignments). Such an encounter is at least an implicit recognition of your value. Worst case: the senior lawyer tells you that you are doing something wrong. Although the encounter may not seem positive, often the senior lawyer will at least give you credit for seeking supervision. At the very least, early exposure of the mistake is far preferable to later, when the senior lawyer discovers your error and calls you on the carpet for it. Make sure that the update is meaningful, and as brief as the senior lawyer wants it to be. Often a pop-in to the senior lawyer’s office will suffice (“I’m almost finished drafting the XYZ Complaint”; “Mr. Jones called — I’ll call him back today”). If a face-to-face report is not possible, the same message by telephone or e-mail may be adequate. Such a message could be coupled with the offer to provide more information, if the senior lawyer wants it, and at the senior lawyer’s convenience. Avoid long monologues in the senior lawyer’s office. If the senior lawyer has time only for a five-second update, give that and get out. Let the senior lawyer invite you to stay to give more detail (and be prepared to give that). If the senior lawyer does invite you to stay, or if you find yourself in a circumstance where he or she must spend time with you, as in waiting for a flight at an airport, be prepared to make that encounter comfortable and positive. Focus on the reality that most people (and certainly most lawyers) are somewhat egotistical. They love to talk about themselves. Use the opportunity for personal contact with the senior lawyer to express an interest in what he or she does. If the time is limited, ask about the background of the project: What else is going on that might relate to the specific work that you are doing? If you have more time, ask more generally about the client, or the kind of project in which you are both engaged. If you have relatively unlimited time, perhaps you will get into the senior lawyer’s background: How did he or she decide to become a lawyer? What is the most interesting work he or she has done as a lawyer? How does he or she balance life as a lawyer with family and social obligations? The list of questions is endless. The answers to these kinds of questions, moreover, may spark further discussions the next time you have an encounter with the senior lawyer. Eventually, moreover, after sharing some of this kind of discussion, most senior lawyers will also express an interest in you. Once you have made real contact with a senior lawyer, assess whether it is something positive that you want to pursue. There may be some people you do not want to spend a lot of time pursuing — it might be that they are not much involved in any of the work you do, or want to do, or that there simply is no good “chemistry” between you. If the contact is something you want to pursue, make sure not to “fall off the map” after your first encounter. Even if the specific project ends, assign yourself the responsibility for periodically checking in with the senior lawyer. Ask, for instance, is there anything else I can do on this matter? Is there anything else I can do for you generally? You may also take note of developments — such as cases or legal articles — that could be of interest to the senior lawyer. Dropping off such materials could be the occasion for developing work on the next assignment. At very least, senior lawyers will get the basic message that you are interested in what they do, and that you want to work with them again. At the very least, every time you meet a senior lawyer again, take the time to stop and reconnect: Whatever happened to that project? How are things with [X] client? What have you been working on recently? How is your family? DO NOT SAY NO Do not say no to any reasonable request from your preferred senior lawyer contacts, at least at the outset of your relationship. One of the most positive attributes that senior lawyers ascribe to the junior lawyers they prefer to work with is availability. If a senior lawyer gets the impression that you will always make the time to help out on one of their projects, he or she will almost inevitably consider you to be one of the first people to call whenever they have new work assignments. This impression should not be conveyed without some limits, of course. If you are truly too busy to handle a new matter for a preferred senior lawyer, then you should say so, candidly. Even in that situation, however, you may be of value. You can suggest another junior lawyer who could help out, or you could offer to do only part of the work, or to join in the work at a later point, when your schedule lightens. In any event, the message is the same: You are here to help the senior lawyer in any way possible under the circumstances. There is no magic bullet in developing good relations with senior lawyers. No single encounter will make, or break, a relationship. Developing and cultivating such relationships will, however, over time make the difference between a world where work is imposed on you by unknown and uncaring senior lawyers, and a world where you participate actively in the affairs of the law firm, your group, and the senior lawyers you work with. Ultimately, developing solid relationships with senior lawyers will also help you become selective about the work you do, and may improve your chances for advancement to partnership Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, and a co-coordinator of the New Associates Group in that office. The views expressed are solely those of the author, and should not be attributed to the author’s firm, or its clients.

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