Law Life

6 Ways Young Associates Can Impress Partners
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Ask any seasoned attorney at a law firm, “how can young associates impress partners?” and you’ll hear, “By treating partners the same way they would treat a client.” It’s the ‘golden rule’ for advancing in a law firm.

There is a small wrinkle in this advice—the ever-present imbalance of power in the lawyer-client relationship. The client is always in control of the relationship, given that he/she wields the power to hire or fire the lawyer.

An improved variation of this advice would be to act as a partner. Like in all aspects of life, you must act as if you are what you hope to become.


Here are some helpful tips to help associates perform above their pay grade and impress partners in the process.

Be a Lawyer, Not a Helper of a Lawyer

First and foremost, don’t approach assignments like a student turning in projects to a teacher and waiting for feedback. By doing that, you won’t show the potential of a leader, merely an assistant to an attorney.

It’s important to understand that you have the same professional credentials as your supervising partner has. With this credential comes the responsibility to act as an attorney. If you manage to demonstrate that level of responsibility, you are very likely to impress both the partner and the law firm.

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By evincing poise, maturity, and a professional attitude, you convey to partners that handling the assigned matter is truly important to you and that you are ready to spend the time required to deliver a top-notch professional work product. 

Take Ownership 

One of the best ways to show a law firm you’re partner material is to demonstrate value by taking ownership of all aspects of your work. Taking ownership of everything you do means you are self-sufficient, which partners appreciate because they do not like to micromanage. Partners are extremely busy and they try to keep their heads above water. By taking ownership of the assignment, you will minimize the partner’s role on the project and make their life easier. 

Go Beyond the Task

Add value in everything you do by answering more than the question asked. If you do nothing more than merely agreeing with the partner and endorse their suggestions, you are not adding value to the product presented to the client. 

By thinking beyond the task and anticipating future needs, you will demonstrate a broader view of the legal matter that you are working on.

Seasoned partners see around corners for their clients, identifying risks and anticipating issues, and you must do that for your colleagues as well.

Embrace Failure as a Catalyst for Growth

The ability to embrace failure as a catalyst for growth is usually something only successful and highly experienced lawyers take pride in. Young associates have trouble understanding this, because of the ‘thinking like a lawyer’ and ‘culture of perfectionism’ taught in law school.  However, you have to realize that when you abhor the idea of failing, you instantly shy away from challenges and therefore get stuck in a comfort zone. To become a partner in a law firm you must develop an entrepreneurial mindset. The main difference between thinking like a lawyer and having an entrepreneurial mindset is that entrepreneurs know they have to fail in order to move forward, while lawyers avoid failure at all costs.

As a young lawyer, you’re going to fail and make mistakes.  There is no way around it. Learn to be resilient in the wake of failure, rather than being paralyzed by it when it happens—or allowing it to stop you from acting in the first place.

Be a Leader, Not a Follower

Young associates most often see the early years in their careers as a time to be led. That’s a mistake. Partners are looking for signs of leadership ability from the get-go. 

Therefore, it’s never too early to distinguish yourself as a leader by taking ownership of your work. 

Even as a young associate, opportunities to show leadership will arise in the context of day-to-day work. Whenever you’re stepping up to take on a new responsibility, it should feel like a stretch because leadership almost always involves pushing your own limits.

Be Involved in Business Development

Naturally, revenue is the lifeblood of every law firm.  Every attorney should play a role in attracting new clients. The times when law firm associates were told to keep their heads down and focus on billing hours are gone. Now, it’s expected of anyone in the law firm to find creative ways to bring in more clients.

While for young associates bringing in clients is an unrealistic expectation, you can play an important role in supporting the firm’s marketing and business development efforts.

Do your part by developing and nurturing a network, both online and offline, consisting of people who may ultimately become clients or referral sources. 



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