5 Unwritten Rules Every New Associate Should Follow (But No One May Tell You)

The demands, both practical and psychological, of beginning a career in BigLaw are challenging enough even if you don’t litter your path with self-inflicted obstacles. Heed the following to keep the road before you wide and clear:

  1. Don’t be “that guy/girl.”  You know, that person who talks your ear off from the moment you’re introduced, not to mention every time you run into them in the elevator, hallways, and [gasp!] the bathroom. As a new associate, your first job is to listen and absorb how your firm’s business is done–everything from substantive and procedural legal points to the internal and client-facing cultural practices. You’ll have plenty of time to demonstrate your technical skills and knowledge once you’ve acclimated to your new team. That said, …
  2. Don’t be a wall flower, either.  Listening does not mean passivity or silence. The associate who never says a word and stands, head down, in the proverbial corner will, at best, be overlooked. In both work oriented and social office settings, engage your new colleagues by asking open-ended questions (i.e., those that cannot be answered “yes” or “no”), listening closely to their answers, and asking selective follow-up questions to ensure that you understanding the hows and the whys behind firm’s and the individual attorney’s practices. And however you decide to engage your new colleagues…
  3. Don’t ask senior lawyers to be your mentor out of the blue.  It doesn’t work like that. First, build genuine relationships (see above). Then, identify a partner or counsel whose practice you’d like to emulate and volunteer to be staffed on her next new matter. Be conspicuously ready, willing and able to do whatever the team needs, and seek out opportunities to go beyond what is expected of you. This will help you…
  4. Avoid any and all appearances of “entitlement.”  In the eyes of many law firm partners, younger attorneys arrive with a stigma‒that of the “entitled millennial.” Do not waste a moment disabusing them of this impression. Whether handling your first assignment or finally being staffed on your ideal mentor’s next matter, work your ever-loving tail off to stay ahead of workflow and take the initiative to add value in unexpected ways. And while you’re at it, never, ever…
  5. Mistreat non-lawyers at the firm.  There are countless stories (some now infamous) of young associates mistreating paralegals and non-legal staff at the firm. Not only does this display poor character, but it is deeply short-sighted. These are the very people who can make your life easier and help you shine as you ascend at the firm. Treat them like the enormous assets they are.

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