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Your law firm cares about your personal and professional growth. But make no mistake, the law is a business — often a cutthroat one. Your firm has made a big investment in you in terms of salary, benefits, training and overhead. It expects a return on that investment. As a young lawyer, it’s important to understand your firm’s point of view as to your value, and to a great degree it comes down to dollars and cents.
Law firms rely on leverage, which means having lots of associates in place to work and bill. Young associates should understand they are typically less valuable (in terms of dollars and cents) to their firms than mid-level and senior associates. It’s a fact of life in today’s economic environment that clients are less willing to (as they see it) subsidize the on-the-job training of young lawyers by paying for unproductive time. This means that as a young lawyer you must be productive and effective — and not just busy — to stand out.
Generate a positive return on the firm’s investment year after year and, all else being equal, you’ll be fine. Fail to make the firm money? That’s when you start hearing things such as “alternate career path” and “lack of long-term career viability” during annual reviews.
But there’s some important nuance baked into this issue that is important to appreciate. Generating a positive financial return on investment is in many ways table stakes for an associate with big career aspirations. You need to make money, yes, but you also need to make life easier for those around you.
The best way to demonstrate value is to take ownership in all aspects of your work. Adopting an ownership mentality reflects an understanding that your superiors don’t want to micromanage you. They certainly don’t want to hold your hand. They’re busy and are trying to keep their heads above water, too. They understand the challenges you’re facing at this point in your career. Most are willing to help (to some extent), but they expect you to take ownership over your projects.
Indeed, developing a reputation as the “go to” person to get the job done is the single most important thing you can do to get noticed as a young associate — to get the plum assignments, and to accelerate your career development. One of the biggest blind spots many young associates have is failing to appreciate just how much partners value excellent associates who take ownership over their work.
Early in your career, you may not even think partners notice you — you feel like a cog in a wheel. You may not have direct contact with the project partner since your work filters through other associates before reaching the partner’s desk. When you work tirelessly on a project, it’s frustrating when you don’t receive any feedback.
You’re not invisible. Because partners are so busy, they need the support of good people below them. Partners compete for the best associate talent. They jealously guard “their team.” Their success depends on it.
Bottom line: They notice. They read it. They know who you are — good or bad.
Here’s how to know if you’ve caught the eye of a partner (in a good way):
And here’s the type of behavior you’ll exhibit if you want to become an indispensable young associate:
Of course, there’s so much more to know and do to distinguish yourself as an invaluable young associate (that’s the point of this monthly column, after all). But this is a pretty good framework to build on. If you can understand the investment that your firm is making in you, how you can help generate a solid return on that investment, and how to know if you and your work are being recognized for all the right reasons, then you’ll be on track to make a big, positive impact as you grow and evolve as a lawyer.
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Wouldn't it be nice to have a board of directors to guide your career?May 1, 2019 0 0 0