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Here’s How You Can Take Proactive Ownership of Your Law Career

Dec. 8, 2022, 9:00 AM

Congratulations! You’ve landed your first job out of law school and by now you are in the full swing of associate life at your firm—including navigating the billable hour, getting to know your new teammates (in person, we hope), juggling lots of deadlines, and starting to learn about client development, among many other things.

As you begin to feel more settled, you may wonder how you can stand out in your new role and lay the foundation for a successful career.

Even in these early days, it’s important to take ownership of your career path, develop your brand, and cultivate client relationships. Below are five practical tips to consider in these stages of your associate career.

Get to know your team and your firm. First things first: Get acquainted with your team, your practice group, and your firm. With many firms hosting back-in-the-office happy hours, lunches, and other social events, it’s the perfect time to take advantage of in-person opportunities to connect and get to know the lawyers and business professionals in your practice group and office.

In addition to attending events like these, grab another associate and invite a partner or senior associate for coffee.

And don’t forget about building relationships with the paralegals, receptionists, librarians, and other business professionals who are all there to support you. Although you’re busy with client work, it’s important to seize opportunities to socialize with people with whom you would not ordinarily interact.

Another great way to get to know your firm is through internal committees and initiatives that interest you—from pro bono and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to associate committees. Get involved in something you’re passionate about. Find your own community of peer associates and form real friendships.

You’ll feel more connected and also cultivate relationships with those who can provide valuable insight, guidance, and resources for you to succeed.

Develop your brand. We all have personal brands, whether or not we are aware of them. Being intentional about developing and revisiting your brand regularly is key to raising your profile and opening doors to opportunities.

Your brand should reflect your strengths, your aspirations, and what sets you apart from the crowd. Consider a colleague you admire. What is their brand and what do you appreciate about it?

Next, give some thought to your own goals and objectives. Once you’ve identified your goals, use internal and external resources to build your brand. This might include volunteering to help with a client services team, reaching out to a colleague to author or co-author an article, or joining external groups, such as an-industry focused bar association, focused on your areas of interest.

Don’t forget LinkedIn as a tool for developing your brand outside of your firm through posts, connections, and engagement.

Get to know your clients. Like you, your in-house peers will someday become senior leaders in their organizations, and now is the perfect time to develop those relationships beyond billable work. It can be as simple as checking in to ask about their vacations or passing along an article of personal or professional interest.

If your client is local, you could invite them to a networking event or get together for a quarterly lunch. However you choose to do it, be systematic and intentional about building and maintaining relationships, and get to know your clients as people outside of work.

The same holds true for your law school classmates and personal network beyond the office, both of whom can become great sources of work, guidance, and support throughout your career.

It’s also never too early to start thinking about how to engage new clients and generate business for your firm. Beyond individual relationships, seek opportunities to help with client pitches and help organize and attend client-focused events.

Not only will your team of lawyers and business development professionals alike welcome the assistance and initiative, but these opportunities are also terrific for getting to know the firm’s clients and their business goals and legal needs, as well as for developing connections with the client relationship partners at your firms.

Reassess regularly and ask tough questions. Your personal and career goals will naturally evolve, and it can be helpful to check in regularly with yourself to ensure that your goals are aligned with your path. This means taking personal and professional stock of where you are, where you want to be, and understanding the steps needed to bridge the gap.

Take advantage of mentors and your firms’ resources to ask hard questions, and be open to receiving candid answers: Am I progressing as I should be? What else should I be doing to advance to the next level? What can I be doing more/less of to succeed? Am I fulfilled by what I do?

Keep perspective. Be sure to account for and appreciate the bright spots in your work—even on the inevitable longer days or when you find a particular matter to be mundane. At this stage of your career, every assignment presents an important learning opportunity and a chance to build a positive reputation.

And try to keep work in perspective—practicing law should be fulfilling. Remember all those who helped you along the way to get to where you are now and seek every opportunity to support others in their own goals.

Even as a junior associate, you have valuable access, insight, and experience to share with others, especially those whose voices are underrepresented in the legal profession.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Jennifer Trock is a partner in Baker McKenzie’s International Commercial practice group. She serves on the Firm’s North America Regional Management Committee and is chair of the firm’s Global Aviation Group.

Orfeh Vahabzadeh is an associate in Baker McKenzie’s International Commercial practice group, where she advises multinational companies on cross-border commercial transactions and international trade matters.