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How to Handle the Daily Grind as a First Year Associate

How to Handle the Daily Grind as a First Year Associate

As law students from the class of 2019 get ready to begin their careers as first associates, many of them might be wondering how to succeed in their new positions. Here are some tips to help you hit the ground running and kick your legal career off to a good start.

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Find Ways to Make Yourself Useful.

This might sound obvious, but, consider the following. Most attorneys who are fresh out of law school do not know much about the actual practice of law. So, what skills do you have that can help you add value to the firm? Your attention to detail. As you learn how to actually be a lawyer, you should become master of the details. Law school likely helped you develop a strong attention to detail and knowing all the facts of a case or terms in a contract is something you can do right away. So when you are working on a case or a deal, be the member of the team that knows the facts or the terms inside and out.

Take on Responsibility Where You Can.

First-year associates often ask how many matters they should take on. The answer is more is better. There are a variety of benefits in being involved in lots of projects. For example, it builds rapport with other associates at the firm and shows the partners that you are capable. It also helps establish a fruitful legal career in the long term because you will be exposed to a wider variety of issues.  

But how much is too much? This can be a difficult question. Declining a partner’s request for your assistance on a project will probably cause long-term damage; partners and senior associates might see you as less reliable and less of a team player. On the other hand, committing to something that you do not have time to complete would be even worse. In general, too much work is better than too little though, and if you must refuse someone’s request for assistance, do so responsibly and explain that you would be happy to be involved in the future.

Welcome Constructive Criticism.

It can be difficult to accept criticism after trying your best, especially for people who have track records of high achievement in law school. As a fresh associate facing a mountain of new tasks to master, however, you will inevitably receive some criticism. Constructive criticism is your friend, not an insult or comment on your work ethic or intelligence.

Listen to the feedback of the other associates and don’t take their criticism personally. Internalizing criticism can damage professional relationships and will make it harder to be comfortable in the law firm setting. Even worse than this, though, is ignoring that feedback. Repeating the same mistakes won’t help build that successful legal career you have worked so hard towards. So, listen to feedback when you get it and ask for feedback when you don’t. Getting immediate feedback on an assignment is much more valuable for your professional development than annual or bi-annual reviews.

Learn to Love Treatises.

Treatises can make your life much easier when you are completing research projects. Searching through Lexis or Westlaw may not always be a viable way to learn what you need to know. There is too much to learn and too little time. You can use treatises in a pinch to get up to speed on the most basic issues in your practice area. Then, you will have more time to take a deep dive and find the law that is most applicable to your facts.


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