Yesterday I was speaking with an exceptionally accomplished 3rd year associate with tippy-top credentials. He is appropriately ambitious, working hard and getting excellent reviews at a top firm traditionally known for making associates partners. In speaking with him, he was confident about his long-term prospects at the firm, and scoffed at my suggestions. I was somewhat taken aback, until I realized he does not have the perspective that I do.
You see, sadly, a tremendous pedigree, strong work ethic, and top firm, are just not enough these days. I have worked with outstanding senior associates from the very top firms, and no-one wants them because they have no book. I know that is not what we were led to believe in law school. Or, even at the firms where we have worked so hard!
So, what can you do to protect yourself and plan for a successful legal career?
Your skills are your security. Learn everything you can to be an excellent attorney. If you are a litigator, get those hands-on litigation skills as quickly as possible. Take and defend depositions, appear in Court. If you can not do this at your current firm, move to one where you can. Transactional attorneys? If deal flow is slow, move. Get the knowledge you can as early as possible. If you like IP (growth area), and your firm is not known for it, get to a firm that is. I can help, that is what I do.
Learn who your clients really are. As an associate we think our clients are the parties whom we are representing in a matter, some big-named corporation or some Wall Street bank, but in reality our clients on a day-to-day basis are the partners and senior associates for whom we work as well as any potential new clients we may develop on our own. Get to know the partners m.o.’s, either directly from them, or from other associates who have worked for them. I worked for a partner who hated anything stapled, another partner who hated the use of the word “that.” Maybe silly to us, but knowing what they want and giving it to them will set you apart from the other associates. These are the people who can be instrumental to your career. They can be helpful in your obtaining your next position, and as future referral sources.
Learn loss mitigation. Time management is key in what we do. There are numerous time vampires in life which need to have stakes driven through their hearts. Be Buffy. Focus on what is productive, and do it.
Create a Marketing/Business Plan Today. I just finished reading an article about how Putin wrote a thesis on restoring Russia’s greatness after the fall of the Soviet Union. He wrote this years ago, and today he is implementing the steps he called for in this thesis. It was/is his game plan, and he is executing it. I know I told you to learn, but you also need to write specific goals in the context of marketing and/or a business plan. Having such a written plan will allow you to identify, target and schedule actionable items which in turn will give you more control over your career. Remember, money talks. Start to build your book, and always have your book in mind.
Network. There are some phenomenal networkers out there, and some people even enjoy doing it. Most do not, and even I succumb to the mindset on occasion that I should not have to look for clients, they should be looking for me. While this is absolutely true (for you as well I am sure) if I want to pay my mortgage, eat, have clothing and the like, I need to be getting clients. So do you. Who do you know? Everyone could be a potential referral source. Get connected to people you already know, and stay connected. Nowadays it is arguably easier than ever. Reach out to others through networking events, or in more non-structured settings and stay connected with them. Grow, nurture, and maintain your network.
Become your own best marketer. Remember to catch a criminal one needs to think like a criminal? I’m not telling you to go Don Draper on me, but making certain your bio is updated, gaining an insight and appreciation of keywords, making certain your linkedin profile and any other social media where you are presented as an attorney has a professional picture of you, creating a strong, concise elevator pitch which you can recite at the drop of a hat, brainstorming on networking targets, all are crucial.