Every young associate is eager to hit the ground running and become a valuable contributor to his or her firm. Attorneys in the early stages of their careers hope to be included in new cases, projects or meetings with prospective clients. Excitement about being involved in client meetings, negotiations and strategy sessions can be a major boost of self-confidence, and if this eagerness and excitement can be targeted and carefully cultivated, associates can find a niche for themselves and fill a void in the firm's lineup. This article offers some tips for young attorneys desiring a seat at the table.
Ask Questions to Identify a Need
Talk to partners and senior associates about the growth and expansion plans for your department and the firm as a whole. Attend department and firmwide meetings and long-term planning sessions. Participate in planning discussions. Most importantly, ask questions:
• Is there a particular area of the law that the firm would like to further develop?
• Is there an existing practice group that the firm plans to promote or expand?
• Is the firm actively seeking to hire an expert in a particularly finite area who will need the support of knowledgeable associates?
• Are there current clients that are underserved or seeking legal advice elsewhere because the firm does not have the resources or the knowledge to provide the representation that the client needs?
If the response to any of these questions is yes, then young associates should view these areas as immense opportunities for success and take action. The first step in becoming a valuable contributor is identifying what the firm needs. Young attorneys can always learn new areas of the law; the key is learning which areas are most valuable to the firm.
Explore a New Area of the Law
When young associates graduate from law school, they have the basic building blocks of practice, but few have a specialty per se. Being flexible and open to new areas of the law makes young associates more attractive, and more valuable, to law firms. The willingness to learn something new can set young associates apart from other attorneys in their departments.
Once the aspect of the law that the firm plans or needs to develop is identified, young associates should explore whether they have some connection to the targeted area—any unique experience, whether in prior jobs, classes in college or law school, in the topic area or contacts in the particular area. Attorneys should endeavor to learn all they can about the particular area of the law and utilize any and all resources at their disposal to do so. There are multiple avenues to pursue: reading scholarly articles, doing research, keeping up on changes in the particular area by monitoring recent court opinions, searching for continuing education programs or attending seminars put on by other firms, panels or professionals, and scoping out any possible competition from other firms.
Another piece of good advice for young attorneys is to set up a news alert to ensure they are the first to learn about changes in this area of the law as soon as they occur. Also, it is important to join listservs. There are typically groups of attorneys, lawmakers and other professionals who monitor a particular area of the law and provide ongoing updates and information related to the particular area. By joining these types of groups, young associates can place themselves at the forefront of emerging areas of the law.
Share the Information
Share it. Once young attorneys identify a firm's need for a particular area of the law and school themselves on that need, it is important to let others know. The first step is to start within the firm. Teach other members of the department about the particular area of the law either through a presentation or the distribution of a memorandum. This is important, because taking the time to put on a presentation or prepare an outline for other members of the department creates a natural connection in the minds of members of the department between the young attorney and that information. The next time a partner or senior associate comes across an issue in this particular area, the young attorney will likely be the first person he or she calls. This is a great way for younger associates to get in front of clients sooner, since they are the ones with the knowledge.
The next step is to share this newfound knowledge with the firm's existing clients. A great option that a lot of firms utilize is the client alert, a short blast of information either in the form of an email, a post to the firm website or a flyer that is distributed to a targeted group of clients that will find the particular information useful. This is a great tool for young lawyers because it gets young associates some name recognition. If a client of the firm sees a new name on an email or flyer distributed by the firm, the client will also begin to associate the particular area of the law with the young associate. Young associates should approach the marketing department at their firm to determine if these types of notices are utilized.
Last, and most certainly not least, the ultimate goal is for the young associate to get published. Whether it be an article in a newspaper, a magazine or a targeted blog, once the attorney is published, the public will come to view him or her as a thought leader in the particular area of the law. Regardless of the fact that the young associate only recently entered this area of the law, once published, the young attorney is a credited author in that field. The young associate has proven to have the information that is in high demand and has taken the initiative to promote that knowledge.
Attorneys can find assistance with this in their firm marketing departments as well. Often, publications in a particular area will open additional opportunities for young associates. Whether those opportunities result in clients reaching out to the firm with new questions or opportunities for new business, or even speaking engagements for the young associate, these are opportunities that would otherwise have gone wasted if the young associate did not have the initiative to explore a new area of the law.
If young associates want a seat at the table and want to be considered valuable contributors to the firm, it is never too early to set themselves apart as leaders in particular areas of the law that the firm has expressed a need to address. If an attorney can fill an existing void, whether by learning an entirely new area of the law, supporting an up-and-coming practice group within the firm by learning the specifics of that practice or learning the specifics of the practice of a new partner in the firm who will need the support, they will only continue to open the door to more opportunities and rightfully claim a seat at the table.
Katherine Missimer is a member of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel's business and finance department, where she focuses her practice on representing businesses, nonprofits and for-profit corporations and health care entities in corporate, real estate, financial and regulatory matters.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.
Reprinted with permission from the January 23, 2014 edition of THE LEGAL INTELLIGENCER © 2014 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 347-227-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com. # 201-01-14-06