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The social environment of a law firm is unique. A firm 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, for hours on end, junior lawyers assume, and all will eventually be well. But a law firm is not an assembly line. A law firm 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 par with their top professional priorities. For junior lawyers, similarly, the establishment and maintenance of relationships within the firm must be a top priority. If you are brilliant, hard-working, conscientious and capable of developing into an excellent, full-fledged lawyer, but 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. BUILD ON RELATIONSHIPS 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), begin to get 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 area(s) of interest at the firm. You should know the same about everyone else at your level. If you had a question about firm policies or senior lawyers, for example, you should feel comfortable discussing such issues with anyone in your class, and they with you. If you had a more substantive question, moreover (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 seed of the need to get 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. In large part, during the early years of practice, these more senior lawyers are your clients (and potential clients). Development of positive relationships with these lawyers should be among your top immediate professional goals. GET TO KNOW SUPERVISORS Get to know the supervisors in your practice group. Be aware of their needs. Often, for them, a key element in any positive relationship with a junior lawyer is the willingness and ability of the junior lawyer to pitch in on projects, often at crisis times, and at the last minute. Developing a reputation as a reliable, competent, “can do” team player will generally stand you in very good stead with these supervisors. Development of the opposite reputation, as someone who consistently turns down work, who whines about the quality of work, or who 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 say to another: “Do you know of a good junior person who can handle this project?” You will never know when such conversations take place, and you will thus not have the ability to influence such conversations directly. But that does not mean that you cannot indirectly 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?” For the lawyers who supervise you on individual projects, that is almost always the way they think of you. Good service on a particular project plants a seed within the supervising lawyer’s mind. The next time an appropriate project arises for you (often, more sophisticated and interesting than the first project), he or she is likely to call you again for further work. And, when questions of staffing come up from other senior lawyers, the lawyer who has had good experiences with you on prior projects is likely to recommend you. Beyond good work for your immediate supervisors, you should 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 ensure that you 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 “on the team” (implicit in the fact that you are at the meeting or on the conference call) may give a boost to your reputation within the group. Often, moreover, there may be an occasion for review of the status of work on segments of the team’s overall project. In that instance, 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). At a minimum, participation in such meetings and conference calls will help you to understand your work better, will often help you to learn the important terms and the identity of players involved in the project and will generally give you increased confidence that you are becoming integrated into the professional activities of the firm as more than a mere functionary. SOCIAL ACTIVITIES Visibility, however, is not pure work. Consider also the many social activities that may be available at the firm. These activities can provide you with additional opportunities to meet other lawyers in the firm, to get to know more about them, and to let them get to know about you, and your interests and abilities. The specific form of the activity does not matter. It can be purely social (cocktail receptions and entertainment events, for example), athletic (many firms have teams participating in leagues, and some have occasional athletic outings), educational (continuing legal education and other training events), or administrative (work 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 others 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 kind of encounters will raise your visibility in the firm. A special note is in order about extremely large law firms (and especially large offices in a law firm). 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 on the effort. As a result, your social network may be shrunk to the lawyers on your practice teams, and the neighbors on your hall. You may even retreat to your office, closing the 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, there is merit in the effort. And there is particular value in getting to know lawyers outside your immediate practice group and teams. If you have questions on substantive law outside your area of expertise, you will do well 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 draw on the resources and client base of the firm. 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 the author’s firm or its clients.

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