Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
As a new lawyer looks around the firm, he or she observes a world of attorneys, paralegals, legal assistants and others busily doing what people do in law firms. The young lawyer typically can’t wait for success at the firm to just drop into his or her lap. But how is it all supposed to happen? Some informed guidance about how to proceed could be a good thing. It may be that a bit of advice from someone who’s been around the field a time or two will be helpful to you in the start-up of your legal career. Please keep in mind that advice to a new lawyer at the firm could include lots and lots of subjects, and go on for many, many pages. This article touches on some of what the author believes to be the most important aspects of a good beginning for a new lawyer in a firm. Consider where you want to be in five years, or 10 years. You may want to be a partner in the firm where you started, or perhaps you want to position yourself for a move to another firm. Or maybe you expect to become a general counsel staffer at a large company, or go in-house with a small company. In fact, for a first-year associate, it doesn’t really matter what your five-year plan or 10-year plan may be. The route to success is the same. You should focus on three things: Do a great job on any project that’s assigned to you, credential yourself and build leadership skills. Just three things. First and foremost, do a great job with the work that’s assigned to you. Understand the assignment. Work hard on it. Get it in on time-or before it’s due. And don’t just take orders; go beyond what’s asked. Take ownership of your piece of the matter. Make it yours. Become the authority on the subject. Take your best shot; don’t assume that others will be looking over what you’ve done and catch your errors or otherwise improve your work product. Get it right, make it complete, and make it as close to perfect as you’re able. REPEAT BUSINESS This approach will cause your “clients” — the lawyers you work for — to become, and be, repeat customers. You’ll be known as the kind of young lawyer who can get it done, and get it done right. That’s the object: repeat business from your clients. When important matters come in the door, you want the senior lawyer who gets the call to be thinking of you as a “go-to” associate who will get the work done on time, or early, and on or under budget. This recommendation has an added special advantage in this day of productivity requirements for young associates. It will assure that you always have plenty of work. You’ll have no problem meeting or beating your firm’s billable-hour expectation. The second prong of the three-pronged approach isn’t quite as straightforward as the first. It involves doing several things at the same time to assure that you have a portfolio in five years or so, when it begins to matter a lot. By that time, you’ll be in the hunt for partnership status at your firm, or, if not, you’ll be looking for a new, different job. In either case, you need to have something to show for the several years that have passed since you graduated from law school. You’ll need a strong review memorandum for your firm, or a resume for alternative employment. To properly credential yourself, you need to become a legal expert. More particularly, you need to make it evident that you’re a legal expert. It might seem as if these are two fairly tall orders. In fact, they are not difficult. There are easy ways to develop, and then show, expertise. DEVELOP A FOCUS The first order of business, of course, is to identify a legal focus or specialty that interests you. Ideally, that will happen naturally as you begin practice with the law firm. At the time when you arrive, or shortly thereafter, you will likely join or be assigned to a practice group. Hopefully, the group that you become a part of will practice in an area of law that genuinely interests you. (If not, you need to address the problem right away. That matter could be the subject of an article of its own, and is, as they say, beyond the scope of this one.) Once you’ve identified an area of practice that interests you, actively seek out opportunities to publish on some aspect of that practice. Being published puts your name in front of the publication’s readership as a person who is interested in the subject and who is, presumably, an expert in the area, to some lesser or greater extent. Also, or more importantly, it gives you something to put behind your name on a resume, firm-evaluation memo and your bio on the firm’s Web site. And it gives you a handout to send to clients, referral sources and others, by way of “thought you might be interested.” Keep in mind, too, that your piece does not need to appear in the Harvard Law Review. It could run in your state or city bar journal. Or it could be a trade publication in the industry in which you work. In fact, some would say that industry publications are better, since they get your name in front of clients and prospective clients, and not just other lawyers. TRY PUBLIC SPEAKING You can, and should, also seek out speaking opportunities, each of which usually includes the preparation of materials that accompany the presentation. For instance, if you speak at a legal seminar, it is likely that the occasion will include the distribution of a book of materials, including the written piece that goes with your speaking part. When you speak before a group-almost any group-you are recognized as a person with expertise on the subject to share with others. Again, you have created an item that will show in your evaluation memo, on your resume, and on the firm’s Web site. Keep in mind that a single published article or speaking engagement won’t be enough. Try to publish one piece, and do at least one speaking engagement, each year. (In this regard, each subsequent article and each subsequent speaking engagement is easier to get done, since you have the previous ones to draw on.) START BECOMING A LEADER The third leg of the three-legged stool is leadership development. A fairly straightforward way to develop, and show, leadership, is to be a joiner in many different spheres of your life. Be a joiner at the firm. If the firm has a basketball team and you play basketball, join the team. If the firm has a cocktail hour on Friday afternoons, go to it. If an e-mail comes around asking for volunteers to help with a firm project, respond affirmatively. It is useful to have people in the firm perceive you as a person who’s willing to help and who likes being with others. And be a joiner in the community and the profession. Join at least one nonprofessional group that interests you-a charity or neighborhood association or college or law school alumni group. In addition, become a part of at least one professional group-a bar association or trade association committee or other group. Once you’re in, get active and raise your hand when volunteers are sought. (Woody Allen was surely right when he said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”) As the years go by, you’ll advance in the organization and become a leader. If you set out on this path, and stay on it, you’ll almost certainly get where you need to be within a few years. If you write an article and have a speaking engagement each year, by the time you’re a fifth-year associate, your resume will show that you’ve published five articles and five seminar papers and that you’ve had five speaking engagements. In addition, if you’ve been active in two or three organizations for five years, you’ll undoubtedly be an up-and-coming member in the organizations, if not a top leader. There’s an added benefit, too. If you adopt this course of action, not only will you have built a nice resume and bio on the firm Web site, you will also have come into contact with a lot of people in situations that make it easy to form both business and nonbusiness relationships. Quite likely, those relationships will result in business generation — a useful thing for a young lawyer’s ego, and nice for purposes of advancement up the ladder in the firm. POSITIONED WELL In its way, practicing law is like swinging a golf club. In order to become a good lawyer, you have to do a lot of things, and think about a lot of things, all at the same time. The suggestions made in this article are not intended to be exhaustive by any means. They will provide, however, a solid beginning for a young lawyer’s professional development. Follow this advice and you will surely move yourself up the curve toward becoming a successful young lawyer. You’ll be in a good position for advancement in the firm, if that’s where you want to stay. If you want to try your hand at something different, within the profession or a different place, you’ll be in good shape for that, too. One way or the other, Godspeed. It’s going to be fun. Jonathan W. Lowe is a partner at Atlanta’s Alston & Bird, where he practices in the areas of corporate health care and technology and serves as the firm’s professional personnel partner.

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.