Here's How Young Associates Actually Impress Law Firm Partners

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"Make it clear that what is important ... is solving the client’s problem, rather than billing time..." - Robert Williams, Sheppard Mullin

How might a young associate make a positive impression on partners in their new law firm? What to do to make a meaningful impact and stand out in ways that matter?

For a perspective on this oft-asked question, we turned to the very source: partners within firms. We put it to them: tell us how associates impress you? Here is what we heard back:

Understand Our Clients' Business

From Joseph R. Fleming, co-chair of Financial Service Practice and deputy chair for Talent at Dechert LLP: "I am always impressed by associates who take the time to understand our clients’ business and how it factors into our advice. Whether they are asking questions to understand fully the facts, drafting crisp and thoughtfully written memos and other work product, helping me or another supervising lawyer anticipate next steps or follow-up questions from a client, or developing alternative solutions and taking a stand on those solutions, these young lawyers show a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for the work that we do and a relentless focus on the needs of our clients — qualities that will serve them well throughout their legal careers."

Also Treat Firm Partners as Your Clients

From Dan Pyne, shareholder and chair of the Employment Law department at Hopkins & Carley: "When I think of ways associates have impressed me, two things come to mind immediately.  First, associates impress me by acting as if I am their client - by taking ownership of the project on which we are working and fully handling the matter I’ve asked them to handle. I’m always impressed by associates that present me with work product that they believe is ready to be provided to the client or to the court immediately and without change, rather than work product that the associate knows will require revision or polish from me. Associates impress me by making my life easier and by minimizing the role I need to play on a project. I’m also impressed when associates add value in a discussion by doing more than just agreeing with my analysis or suggestions. If an associate does nothing more than agree with me and endorse my suggestions, he or she isn’t adding value to the product we present to our client.  I’m impressed, and our clients benefit, when an associate is able to add value by seeing an issue or an angle that I have not seen, or by devising a more efficient solution to a problem."

Be a Lawyer

From Robert Williams, partner in the Finance and Bankruptcy Practice Group in Sheppard Mullin's Los Angeles office. Mr Williams also serves as the firm's Chief Talent Officer: "An associate impresses me when he or she makes it clear that he or she intends to function as a lawyer, rather than merely as a helper to a lawyer. I mean this on several levels:

  1. Evincing poise, seriousness, maturity and a professional attitude. The associate must convey to me that handling the assigned matter is truly significant to the associate, and that he or she will expend the time that is necessary to deliver a professional work product, irrespective of the associate’s personal priorities;
  2. Making it clear that what is important to the associate is solving the client’s problem, rather than billing time;
  3. Approaching communications in a manner that inspires confidence (listening intently to instructions and explanations, and thinking carefully before speaking);
  4. Taking the initiative to review treatises or file materials as necessary in order to get up to speed on the legal and factual background of the assignment;
  5. Producing written work that is clear, disciplined, well-organized and grammatically correct.

 An associate should not approach his or her work on a legal matter like a student who simply 'turns in' a project to a teacher with the assumption that the teacher will 'correct it.' The associate should realize that he or she has the same professional credentials as his or her supervising partner has. With this credential comes responsibility to act like a lawyer. If the associate demonstrates that level of responsibility, he or she is very likely to impress both the partner and the firm’s client (which will further impress the partner). "

Go Beyond the Call of Duty

Sheri Warsh, partner in the Trusts & Estates Group at Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC, offers a very personal example of this: "Adam Garber, an associate in our Trusts & Estates Group, accompanied me to a hospital to witness the Will of a terminally ill client. Typically, on such a hospital visit, I would have also brought with me a notary, however I didn’t do so on this occasion, because I had been told that the hospital would provide one. Of course, when we arrived and called the hospital department to arrange the notary, one was not available. Without prompting from me, Adam understood that the client had many more important things on his mind, and didn’t need yet another headache. He walked down to the notary’s office and camped outside the door until she arrived. He then immediately brought her to the client’s hospital room. The client, went from being extremely annoyed to very relieved as a result of Adam’s diligence, which helped to make a difficult and stressful situation for a client a little less so."

And related, of course, with another personal take:

Help Others

From Michael Healy, San Francisco Partner, Sedgwick LLP: "I am impressed when anyone, including our partners and associates, step beyond their day-to-day work pressures and take the time to help others. Recently, one of our San Francisco associates, David Mesa, took it upon himself to organize an internal relief effort for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. He researched ways for members of our firm to make contributions, organized an internal food drive, communicated these options to the firm and followed up to make sure the contributions were delivered.  Along with his wife, he also organized a happy hour fund raiser that was hosted by the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California. For attorneys, one of the most valuable things we can give to any charitable endeavor is time, and David did just that. His efforts have helped the victims of the typhoon and helped to pull our firm and the community together around a worthy cause."

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The notion of treating partners as your clients is also taken up by in-house attorney Rebecca Signer Roche, writing an In-House Perspective on the topic: 10 Ways Every First Year Associate Can Shine.

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[JD Supra's new Firm Leadership series looks at the business of law from the inside, with insights from senior marketers, business development leaders, and partners at leading law firms. Stay tuned for additional articles in this series.]

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