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ANALYSIS: How to Succeed as a Junior Associate in Six Easy Steps

Oct. 12, 2021, 9:01 AM

Calling all junior associates: On Sept. 23, I joined my fellow Bloomberg Law legal analysts in a panel discussion to share our experiences as law firm associates—and to offer advice to help you start your career off right.

If you missed the webinar, don’t worry. You can access the free recording here—it’s only one hour, and that hour was packed with tips for tackling your assignments, understanding client needs, developing research and project management skills, prioritizing your own well-being, and building mentorship and networking opportunities.

I’ve summarized the key takeaways below. Watch/listen/read on, and then hit the ground running!

1. Make yourself indispensable early on.

When you’re a junior attorney, it can be hard to figure out how you and your assignments fit in. But don’t sell yourself short: Even your earliest legal research can inform client advice, shape case strategy, and get cited in briefs. If you’re tasked with document review, you’ll quickly become an expert gatekeeper of information, making you an indispensable part of the team. Then, once it’s time for depositions, more senior attorneys will turn to you for help crafting questions and identifying exhibits. Add even more value by creating work product that will save time down the road, like a cast of characters, case chronology, or hot documents list.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s better to get clarification than to spin your wheels on an assignment that misses the mark. And be sure to figure out your colleagues’ communication styles—some people prefer email, others prefer phone calls—and tailor your communications accordingly.

It’s normal to have down time when you’re just starting out or transitioning between matters. Take advantage. Learn about your firm’s resources: Are there librarians? Knowledge management attorneys? Paralegals or project assistants? Subscription research platforms? Internal document management systems? Also, check out resources like Bloomberg Law’s Analysis Channel, which has free articles geared toward junior associates on topics like drafting memos and conducting a privilege review.

2. Understand your clients’ needs.

Remember that you have two kinds of clients: in-house counsel (the external client) and the partners and more senior associates who assign and review your work (the internal client).

Interactions with in-house counsel will happen sooner than you think. Research the client company’s corporate structure, check its litigation history, monitor new case developments by tracking dockets, and set up news alerts to stay on top of company and industry trends.

Be prepared to provide quick answers to queries about when the filing deadlines are or which custodians’ documents have been produced in discovery. To do that, you need to have a strong organization system in place. And always present information in a way that makes your internal and external clients’ lives easier. For example:

  • Send a bullet-point summary of noteworthy testimony following a deposition;
  • When you forward the court’s latest order to the team, include a brief summary and call out any action items or deadlines; and
  • When you send your legal research to the partner, include a draft email for them to send on to the client.

3. Hone your research skills.

During the research assignment meeting, ask questions that will put the assignment in context. This will help you determine when you need to ask follow-up questions and how to best frame your findings to meet the client’s needs.

Be thoughtful about where you begin your research. If you are a litigation associate, case law research may be your best bet for many assignments. But for some assignments, Points of Law, Smart Code, or litigation practical guidance may be a better starting point. If you’ve approached the question from multiple angles and are finding the same cases over and over again, you have likely exhausted your research. If you aren’t finding anything on point, it’s time to check back in with the assigning attorney; but make sure you come prepared to show your research trail.

Present your findings in a straightforward, user-friendly way. Attach cited authorities, highlight relevant information, include bullet-point summaries, and provide a recommendation where appropriate.

If you are a transactional attorney, your early assignments will include conducting due diligence, drafting contracts, and preparing for negotiations. There are powerful tools to help you with this work. For example, Deal Analytics can help you find a company’s transaction history, Draft Analyzer can help you determine market standards, and transactional practical guidance will walk you through different transaction types, document types, and clause descriptions.

4. Develop project management skills, too.

Incorporate project management principles to better manage your matters and create repeatable workflow processes.

For example, use checklists or intake questionnaires to gather background information about your projects. Use a LACI chart as a cheat sheet to identify who is Leading the matter, who is Assisting with the assignments, who should be Consulted for necessary input or approval, and who should be Informed about the progress.

Come up with a project schedule to make sure you meet deadlines. For example, when you’re preparing for a document production, build in time for first- and second-level review, privilege review, redactions, Bates stamping, privilege log creation, etc. And think about a communication plan so you know who to keep in the loop, using what communication method, and how often.

5. Prioritize your own well-being.

Make your own well-being a priority, and start building healthy habits from day one. If your firm provides well-being resources like fitness classes or wellness apps, use them. Build in time for breaks during the day: Find a friend at work who you can meet for coffee or happy hour, or find an office running buddy. Life as a law firm associate can be stressful and exhausting, so having a support system is key.

6. Make time for mentorship and networking.

It can be intimidating to make new connections, especially early on in your career. As a starting point, reach out to any formal mentors; they can facilitate introductions that will help you build other relationships organically.

Don’t forget to network outside of your office and practice group; you want people to think of you when they have a new project that requires your expertise. Network with non-lawyers too. Librarians, litigation support staff, and e-discovery vendors are just a few examples of your firm’s invaluable resources. Get to know them.

And remember, it’s not enough just to make the connection—you also have to sustain it. Attend events hosted by your firm or local bar association, stay in touch with colleagues who leave your firm (and do the same if you switch jobs one day), and keep up with your law school classmates, who will be doing great things with their J.D.—just like you.

For more tips and resources, check out the free recording of Bloomberg Law’s Sept. 23 How to Succeed as a Junior Associate webinar. Click “Register” to access the recording and related materials.

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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