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Memo To New Associates: Manage Your Own Career

 

Recent law school graduates have been taking the bar exam. In a couple months, hopefully around 56.2% of them will have jobs. The below hypothetical memo is written from a senior partner to new associates of a firm.

New Associates,

muppet curmudgeonCongratulations on finishing law school and passing the bar. If we have hired you, you must have an impressive resume (or really good connections/relationships which we plan to leverage). I mention this because the other half of the other lawyers who graduated don’t have a job. It’s a buyer’s market for law firms – and we bought you. Good job.

The fact that we hired you over all the other available candidates likely leads you to believe that we believe that you have valuable skills, knowledge, and can contribute to the firm. Nope. We picked you because you seemed like the most marginally competent person. You have little to no valuable skills, knowledge, or experience. You know absolutely zero about what it means to actually practice law.

As such, you will only be given simple tasks that we think you can handle with close supervision. Don’t mess them up. Sweat the small details. Manage your time effectively. Revise, rewrite, recheck everything you do before you turn it in to be reviewed.

Never assume anything. First try to research and think your way through a problem or issue. Only after you’ve rammed your head against the wall until it’s bloody should you come ask a question. I want to know that you’re tried to figure it out on your first. IE – don’t waste my time, it’s much more valuable than yours. As we will be directing your every task, you might also think we will help you with your career development. This cannot be further from the truth.

While we do have a “mentoring program,”  it’s all largely for show. No one wants to be forced to be someone’s mentor. True mentoring relationships happen organically between two compatible people, not because there is a corporate policy in place. What does this mean for you?

Your career is up to you. 

The firm is not responsible for your development. The firm is not responsible for finding you work. The firm is not responsible for your success. You are responsible for all these things. You must take an active role in the development of your career.

  • Want to learn more about a practice area? Go to CLEs on your own, buy books on the subject, ask attorneys in our firm (or even another!) out for coffee to talk about it.
  • Want a mentor? Get out of your office and find one. Take interest in your potential mentor’s work, offer to help. Be interested in the world, and be interesting yourself. Free bit of advice: get more than one mentor, and get some who aren’t lawyers.
  • Want to be successful as a lawyer? Success is not something that is handed to you. It requires long hours, hard work, and dedication. It requires diligence, frustration, and sacrifice.

Your success or failure at the firm will largely be the result of your attitude and mindset. You can either have a fixed, set-in-your-ways, I’m-a-special-snowflake mindset, or a flexible, industrious, growth-oriented mindset. A fixed mindset is intimidated by obstacles, sees effort as fruitless and takes criticism poorly. A growth mindset embraces challenges, sees effort as a means to achievement, and integrates criticism to improve performance.

To do well in the firm, you must possess the latter. Or be fired.

Good luck.

I channeled a fair bit of Scott Greenfield and Mark Hermann in this one.

 

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About Keith Lee

I'm the founder and editor of Associate's Mind. I like to write, talk, and think about law, professional development, technology, and whatever else floats my boat. I practice law in Birmingham, AL.

4 comments

  1. This is damnably accurate.  I’m a BigLaw (well, really MidLaw) partner  & have seen associates come and go.  The ones who do what’s said in this memo succeed.  This who don’t, don’t.  That said, we don’t “fire” people, we just strongly suggest their skills may better be placed elsewhere.  Intimated is that if they stay around, they’ll never get further than where they are, their workload will decrease, and when they’re fired for billing 1,200 hours they’ll get shitty recommendations.  That’s usually enough.

  2. That is extraordinarily stupid: someone from a top law school knows the law, while a partner with work 10 years out does not know the law. So you use the knowledge of the young attorney. Do you imagine that someone from a podunk law school even studied business law, or had the opportunity to do so? No. But a graduate of Harvard could study with the best business students (because you get access to the business school) and from the best business law courses. So by the time they graduate, they have forgotten more than most lawyers ever learn.

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