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ANALYSIS: Five Ways to Stand Out as a First-Year Associate

Sept. 15, 2021, 9:00 AM

You have passed your final law school exams, taken the bar, and maybe even enjoyed a (masked) bar trip. You’ve spent countless hours in the classroom, studying for tests and preparing for the moment you walk into a law firm to start your first job after graduation. Now that it’s here, keep these tips in mind your first few weeks to help make a great first impression.

1. Contribute quickly.

Yes, you are just starting out. But you can still become an integral part of the team very quickly. You will likely be placed on a matter because the lawyers on that matter need help now. You can jump in and help with assignments to make their lives easier immediately.

Did you get a research assignment? Brush up on legal research best practices so that you can hit the ground running and contribute to the next brief. Were you placed on document review or a privilege review? These assignments allow you to become an expert on the facts of the case. Use this opportunity to create a timeline, key players list, and other helpful work product that senior attorneys can turn to during discovery.

2. Know your audience.

If you are at a large firm, you are unlikely to interact with clients in the beginning. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a client.

Treat the senior associates and partners on your matters as your client. Your job is to make their jobs easier, and to make them look good in front of the firm’s client. Keeping this in mind will help guide your questions, decisions, and work product.

For example: What is the purpose of your research assignment? If the partner needs to send an email to the client answering a specific question, a portion of your work product should provide the partner with something they can copy and paste into that email response. That not only proves to the partner that you understood the assignment, but it saves them valuable time when drafting the email. The partner will also be more likely to come back to you when the next research assignment pops up.

3. Ask for help and training.

Take advantage of your time as a new associate to ask lots of questions. This not only involves figuring out the answers to specific questions, but also learning who to go to when future questions arise.

Large law firms employ lots of support personnel, such as knowledge services specialists, paralegals, and those specializing in technology, discovery, business development and personal development. Familiarize yourself with them and learn what they specialize in. They are there to help you, but can only do so if you know who they are and what to ask them.

This is also a great time to learn about all of the technology available to you, such as which legal research platforms you have access to and what document review tools the firm tends to use. Before you are placed on your first matter, use some of your downtime to get trained on these technologies so that you can utilize them to their full potential. You can quickly become an expert on legal technology, which will help make you indispensable in the future.

4. Establish healthy routines.

Your days are quickly going to become busy. Take advantage of the first few weeks when things may not be quite so chaotic to establish some self-care routines that you will stick to.

If you love yoga, find a weekly class and commit to going each week. If you enjoy meditation, do not give that up when your schedule gets busier. Stress is a part of life, but establishing and maintaining healthy routines helps optimize your productivity and contributes to your overall well-being.

5. Invest in relationships.

Strong relationships will serve you well—not only in your professional life, but in your personal life as well. Like you, your law school classmates are starting to do amazing things, so spend the time to maintain those relationships that you have already formed.

You should also invest in new relationships, both inside and outside of your law firm. Join the Young Lawyers Division of the ABA or join the local bar association in your city. You can also combine networking with well-being: for example, if you enjoy running, try to find a group of lawyers who run in your community so you can build relationships while doing something you enjoy.

To hear more about how to succeed in your first year, register for this free Bloomberg Law webinar.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find additional resources geared towards summer and junior associates, including practical guidance, workflow tools, surveys, and more on In Focus: Core Skills – Litigation and In Focus: Lawyer Development.

Everyone can find related content available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page.

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