Life Lessons for 3rd Years



You are now a third year associate… wouldn’t it be nice to have some practical advice as to how to succeed in this role?

Here are some tips from the trenches for your Third Year:

  1. Start acting like a partner.

Partners are business owners, and as such they need to be concerned with the bottom line. It is a fiercely competitive market out there, and while you may not have had to notice, it is now necessary for you to do so. Make certain the time you spend on a matter is worthwhile to the client. It is now no longer only about billing hours to meet a goal; it’s about realizing value for your firm as well as the client. Think of selling your time as a business decision. Are you making and keeping clients happy so that you get repeat business? You are witnessing the commoditization of the practice of law. What distinguishes you and your firm from all of the other legal service providers out there seeking to steal your client? The client’s happiness, period.

  1. Know thy place.

I know this sounds harsh, but as a third year, you can be dangerous. You know enough to get the job done, and probably enough to get it done well, but you must also bear in mind your role is that of the supporting actor. You are not the star; the senior associate or partner has to be. Be quiet. Be helpful. Be humble. Look good by making everyone else look good.

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

In your third year, many associates have a tendency to let communication slip. It is the way with familiarity, and as the saying goes, it may end up breeding contempt. Remember, clear communication is always prized, whether it is with Partners, seniors, juniors, staff or clients. As simple as it sounds, many a bombshell may be avoided simply by documenting what was said.

  1. Be smart with e-mail.

I know this seems contradictory to what I just said, but email is in fact that, mail. Remember what your evidence professor said? Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, and never nod if you can wink. If you need to communicate something you’d rather not see in print, pick up the phone and have a conversation. An e-mail lives forever, just ask Hillary…

  1. Delay the out-house of going in-house

It is a rare day when I am not asked by one of my 3rd year candidates about going in-house. First, it is highly unusual for me to have an in-house opening for a junior attorney…most of my in-house clients seek a minimum of 5-7 years of experience. Second, and perhaps more interesting, the majority of my in-house clients want attorneys with more than one law firm position under their belt. Why? It has been explained to me that the ability to demonstrate success in more than one environment bodes well, and in-house employers want someone who has practical hands-on experience as well as the ability to circumnavigate a variety of personality types.

  1. Begin to build a book.

Nice alliteration, eh? Your first few years in practice is not the time to be overly involved in networking organizations. Now it is time to begin to think strategically about where your book will be found. Alumni organizations? Religious groups? Local community sports teams? Kids’ schools? Non-profits? All are potential sources of business, and it is now time to grow your involvement with an eye towards future business opportunities.

  1. Specialize.

No one is indispensable, but if you are becoming the go-to gal or guy for something, master that something. I am working with a Partner candidate who as a third year associate happened to be tapped to work on a big matter involving a new way to extract gas called fracking. This matter was for a large well-known energy company, and he eventually became the go-to guy for fracking for his firm, helping several important clients over the next 10+ years. As you can imagine, firms are now clamoring for him!

  1. Remember your skills are your security…is it time to make a move?

We have seen such tremendous changes in the practice, and so many more are to come. While it seems sophomoric, don’t forget to question, think critically, and come to a deliberate and reasoned conclusion. I know by now this should be emblazoned on your DNA but if it is not, it must be. Use these skills both for your clients, and with regards to your own career. If your learning curve has flattened, it is time to make a move. You MUST be in control of your own destiny. Careers are planned, not accidental. Inertia is a powerful and destructive force. Is it time to plan your next step?