Firms pay a lot of attention at this time of year to the care and feeding of the incoming class of lawyers — and some firms don’t pay such attention again until associates become midlevels and are the focus of national surveys and recruiters’ calls.

However, firms might want to consider placing more emphasis on associates in the formative years — those years immediately following the first year of practice. These formative years bear as much on legal careers as law school tiers, first-year grades and law review results. This is the time when associates distinguish themselves as keepers and when firms establish themselves as homes. Especially these days, since associates leave firms earlier in their careers, this is a critical time both for the firms and the associates.