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Advice to Young Associates: 'Think Like a Partner'

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  • Advice to Young Associates: 'Think Like a Partner'

    We were once, we imagine, like a lot of young law-firm associates. We entered a big law-firm practically rolling our eyes at the very idea that we were, in fact, even toiling at a big law firm. We would do it for a few years, see how it went, pay off some loans, yadda yadda yadda. Throughout our stint, we worked hard, though not nearly hard enough to deserve the praise and accolades we felt we deserved. As a result, we felt under-appreciated, which made us work less hard, which triggered apathy. Before we knew it, we were looking for the door, wondering what in the world had gone wrong.

    If there’s one good thing that the recession and corresponding struggles in the world of BigLaw have brought (and it’s a slight benefit), we imagine it’s an end to that rather loathsome attitude among some associates. Those who get jobs in BigLaw these days might not feel as if they’ve accomplished their life dreams, but more than a few probably feel pretty lucky. No fewer than a half-dozen partners have told us that this year’s crop of summer associates seems scared, driven and perhaps even more eager to please than previous classes. (They’ve also, perhaps not surprisingly, called the current crop of summers “boring” and “personality free.”)

    So how do young associates please their superiors? In days past, we might have clicked right through first-person how-to tales of success, scoffing privately at the authors as “gunners,” or worse. But we came across a piece today in the Texas Lawyer which, we think, actually offers up some advice that someone out there might find helpful. And yes, we imagine there are more young lawyers out there looking for advice on how to thrive at a law firm than there were back in the early part of the decade, when it was relatively easy to keep your job and, well, reading articles on how to succeed at a law firm was decidedly uncool.

    The article at issue comes to us courtesy of Jason Braun, an associate at Ajamie LLP. Some of Braun’s tenets:

    Think Like a Partner: Braun writes: “When I became a lawyer, a partner gave me what I now realize was great advice: “Don’t think like an associate,” she told me. “Think like a partner.” . . . [O]ver time, I learned that the basic premise behind the advice is to put the client first and let the partner be your guide. . . . New lawyers should act as though they owe a fiduciary duty to their firm and its partners, whether or not the law recognizes one. Those who act on this belief will respond to situations appropriately.”

    Strive for Perfection, Live With Less: “Associates should always strive to provide the partner with perfect work. Here is a little secret: You will fail miserably numerous times. But do not be disheartened if the partner says your perfect brief is complete and utter trash. Keep striving for perfection, and the criticism will lessen. . . .”

    Appreciate the Yellers: Some associates complain ad nauseam about partners who criticize their appearance or yell at them. Don’t be one of those associates. . . . In my opinion, those are the best partners because when you make a mistake, you will never forget it.

    Work that Business Card: “In firms, those who make the rain also make the rules. Associates who want to make their own rules should become rainmakers themselves. . . . First rule of thumb, always carry business cards. . . . [U]se them. The cards are useless if they remain in a pocket. Start by exchanging cards with other attorneys. Meet other lawyers and follow up with lunch. Often other attorneys are the best source of business referrals.”

    Frankly, we can’t buy into everything Braun suggests, like eschewing a backpack in favor of, we presume, something more formal. But we do appreciate much of what he says, especially once we’ve dropped that knee-jerk cynicism. LBers, any thoughts?
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