Small firm new associate advice

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Small firm new associate advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 10, 2013 2:34 pm

Hi all,

I recently received and accepted an offer at a small firm. I was hoping in this tread we could discuss how to succeed the first year or so as a new associate! Any advice, tips etc.? Thanks everyone!

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby anon168 » Sun Feb 10, 2013 3:56 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Hi all,

I recently received and accepted an offer at a small firm. I was hoping in this tread we could discuss how to succeed the first year or so as a new associate! Any advice, tips etc.? Thanks everyone!


Be extra nice and courteous to everyone, esp. the support staff.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 10, 2013 5:21 pm

Firm size?

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:59 pm

5-10. Thanks!

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Sm Firm Hiring P » Sun Feb 10, 2013 9:05 pm

Several things to keep in mind. Attorneys give you work if you do a good job and finish the project in a timely fashion. Come in early. Hopefully, you will be assigned a mentor. If you get too many assignments, as your mentor for help to prioritize. Don't pester the partners with questions all day long. Save them up in batches. Be pleasant. Go to lunch with the other associates. Be nice to the staff. Ask questions so it appears you want to learn and improve. Ask to go to court or closings or experiences in whatever you are in so you can see how the attorneys handle matters so you can do it they way they want. If you don't get an official evaluation every 6 months, ask for one. Hopefully, your summer experiences have given you some experience how to do things. In a smaller firm you will get much more hands on experience more quickly. On the flip side, be prepared to do some self education to aid your learning. The Practical Lawyer publication is outstanding.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby thesealocust » Sun Feb 10, 2013 9:26 pm

Philosophically, imagine everyone you work with as a lion with a thorn stuck in its paw, then remove the thorn.

Constantly ask yourself: how can I make the lives of the people around me suck less?

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Feb 10, 2013 9:47 pm

Thanks everyone! Super helpful. I think it definitely makes sense to make life very easy for everyone else in the firm. I also plan on being as proactive as possible in going to court and learning as much as possible.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:02 pm

Didn't mean to make it anon. See below post.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby a male human » Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:04 pm

Hi OP, can I ask you for advice instead? I'm assuming you are a post-grad. What was your strategy in securing your position? As a 3L targeting small to midsized firms in the South Bay, is there anything I should do right now? Thanks!

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Feb 11, 2013 11:43 pm

I have a friend that works at a 10-20 attorney firm and the dynamics around the three major partners are just this fascinating study of human psychology. It's a great place to work 95% of the time, but 5% of the time it's a weird mine field of passive agression and power struggles that you would never even know were occurring if you didn't know the people involved.

Don't ever, ever say anything negative about anyone at the firm, even if the person you are talking to is saying negative things about that person--there is no escaping an attorney if you don't like each other, and gossip will move quickly. Don't immediately jump in to being one attorney's go-to associate to the exclusion of others, since you don't know the lay of the land yet. Try to work with everyone and pick a busy, well-liked attorney to be your informal mentor if possible. People love to talk about themselves and give advice so it'll be easier than it seems.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:08 am

I had a thread going about this: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=202081

I'm still willing to take questions there or here on this topic (but there is already a lot of info in that thread).


First, op, congratulations. I've done hiring for my small firm (and for my mid-sized firm before that). Getting hired by a small firm is a tough thing to do and means that you really impressed some people along the way. Small firms have to be very careful about hiring (especially if the firm already works well). In an office of 5 to 10 lawyers (the exact size of my firm), one bad hire can cause a real mess.

Some advise for you:

- Be observant of the roles that people are playing around you for the next few weeks. In small firms there will be different people that wear many hats and have different skill sets. You need to take time to figure out who is who. In my firm, I'm the nuts and bolts guy - you come to me when you aren't exactly sure how to move forward, or if you fucked up and you need to un-fuck something. I'm an associate. You're way better off coming to me about the problem because ultimately, the partner would probably come to me anyway to fix it and frankly, you won't get in any "trouble" if you come to me.

- Realize that there is no neat/clean assignment partner. Tasks will come at your from everywhere and no one will be tracking how much work you are doing. With that in mind, when you already have 5 massive projects (on a tight time-frame) and someone brings you the sixth assignment (also needed on a short turn-around), you need to be honest with that person about your caseload. If you take on too much and the assignments cannot get done in time, there may be no one there to step up and get the work done.

- The things you do matter more than they do at bigger firms. You will have more "real" responsibility quicker at a small firm. The tasks you are given could potentially tank an important case if you mess them up. You need to be clear about what you are working on and ask lots of questions. When in doubt, ask someone.

- Figure out how the power structure works at the firm. Its not always purely on seniority. The partner that calls the shots may have an associate that is his or her right hand person. That person may wield a lot of power and knowing how to approach that person and interface with that person can be extremely important to your development at the firm.

- You need a mentor! Find a younger associate or one that is well regarded at the firm and start watching and learning from that person. Pick wisely.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:56 pm

OP here:

Thanks so much everyone for these tips!

@Reasonable: It looks like I'm the youngest at the firm. Everyone else is a partner. Does this change things in the sense that I won't have other younger associates to learn from? How many questions are too much? I don't want to overload anyone. How long do you think until I have trials?

@ a male human: Networking! I worked my butt off to network with tons of small firm attorneys in my area.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby a male human » Tue Feb 12, 2013 1:46 pm

I figured it was something like networking (in fact, it was networking)! Did your grades matter or was it more your interest in the practice area? Or something else that got you in the door?

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby patrickd139 » Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:23 pm

reasonable_man wrote:reasonable_advice

For anyone landing in a small firm, this (along with the information in the other thread) is solid gold. Having worked in small-size (2-10 attorneys) and mid-size firms (30-150) myself, I'll +1 all of what r_m said. Listen to the guy, take advantage of his experience and willingness to field questions, and thank him.

One additional suggestion: When the firm has a function, go. This is especially true with events dealing with senior members of the firm, and more important now than later in your career. Whether it's cake for an employee's birthday in the conference room, a firm-wide invitation to hear one of the partners speak, or an impromptu lunch with other attorneys, make yourself visible and engaged. Because joining a small firm is like joining a family, you don't want to be the guy who just works for work's sake.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby FamilyLawEsq » Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:47 pm

For a young associate in a small firm: the best advice I can give you is to make sure that you keep the same hours as the partner(s) with whom you work the most closely. If that partner works Saturdays, make sure you go in Saturdays. Working in a small firm is not a 9-5 job as so many young attorneys believe. Trust me, the managing partner knows who is putting the time in, not just churning billable hours.

Join organizations, especially if you are not from the area, like Lion's Club, Masons, Rotary, etc., to start to make contacts and generate business. Become active in the Bar Association activities to network with attorneys and judges that may not be in the same practice areas as the firm. Join the Inns of Court if your Bar has a chapter. Market the firm in non-economic ways. Go into the local schools on Law Day (May 1) or work with a local high school and help coach the high school moot court team.

With the firm's approval, sign up to be appointed as a guardian ad litem in adoptions, guardianships, or juvenile matters to get some courtroom experience.

Edited because it sounded as if I was a young associate in a small firm when in fact I am an old fart in a small firm!

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:52 am

patrickd139 wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:reasonable_advice

For anyone landing in a small firm, this (along with the information in the other thread) is solid gold. Having worked in small-size (2-10 attorneys) and mid-size firms (30-150) myself, I'll +1 all of what r_m said. Listen to the guy, take advantage of his experience and willingness to field questions, and thank him.

One additional suggestion: When the firm has a function, go. This is especially true with events dealing with senior members of the firm, and more important now than later in your career. Whether it's cake for an employee's birthday in the conference room, a firm-wide invitation to hear one of the partners speak, or an impromptu lunch with other attorneys, make yourself visible and engaged. Because joining a small firm is like joining a family, you don't want to be the guy who just works for work's sake.



Thanks man - very nice of you to say. And to piggy-back off of your point (which is a very good one that I completely missed), the social side of life at a small firm is VERY important. Always get to those events. I essentially NEVER turn down a partner when I am invited somewhere. Its bad for your career development in the firm and as an attorney. Client events are equally important. Also, and I cannot stress this enough - don't get bombed. Drink and drink enough that everyone thinks you are a fun person, but drink within your comfort level and do not get bombed. Especially if clients are involved. Often times, I'll have a clear drink and then i'll sneak in a tonic-water or a sprite or something in between to make sure I'm pacing myself, all the while not signaling that I'm taking it easy.

Also get to know the rhythms of your firm on a day to day basis. If everyone likes to go out, or if you are getting invited out to lunch, etc., make sure you go!! I'm always shocked when people are crazy enough to turn down these offers from partner level people. If you're busy - go anyway - and stay an hour later at work to finish whatever you were working on. This is so key to your development at the firm.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:57 am

As a small firm n00b, I am so in on this thread. So much reasonable_advice.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:04 am

Anonymous User wrote:OP here:

Thanks so much everyone for these tips!

@Reasonable: It looks like I'm the youngest at the firm. Everyone else is a partner. Does this change things in the sense that I won't have other younger associates to learn from? How many questions are too much? I don't want to overload anyone. How long do you think until I have trials?

@ a male human: Networking! I worked my butt off to network with tons of small firm attorneys in my area.



A couple of things.

1) What practice area? That will impact how long it will take for you to try cases. I've second seated major trials and I've tried one or two very small cases. I've also perfected and argued appeals and started doing so about a year ago (I'm a 2008 grad). I've probably taken or defended over 100 depositions and argued probably more than 150 motions. But I'm the "court" guy and not everyone will have those numbers at a small firm in a 4 year period. Again, practice area will matter a lot.

2) Its not the number of questions, its the quality. Not having an associate around is not ideal, but its also not a game-killer. I typically go to the partner with real substantive questions and I'll bounce ideas off of other associates. But I will also bounce ideas off partners too, so I guess it wouldn't be that big of a deal if there were no associates. Back to the main point, the thing that matters most is quality. You can come in and have a conversation about a case and thats fine. But the conversation should be intelligent and focus on the more difficult aspects of the assignment. Don't ask the partner about filing deadlines or procedural rules that are easily verified. Focus your time on discussing the substance of what you are doing (forest through the trees). This last point sounds silly, but NEVER walk into a senior partners office without a pad. If information is going to flow, write it down. I am always happy to talk about a case with one of the junior associates, clerks, etc. But what drives me nuts (and they all know this lol), is if they don't write stuff down and then wind up asking the same shit again and again. Those are the types of questions that bother partners.

3) At some point start to figure out the dynamic and try to learn why you are the only associate. If its because associates leave (high turn around), you'll figure it out quickly because the working environment will suck. But if its because 2 people started the firm and 3 joined as associates and eventually became partner, well then, that's just awesome and a very good sign.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:10 am

prezidentv8 wrote:As a small firm n00b, I am so in on this thread. So much reasonable_advice.



Nice.. What kind of work? Hired as an associate?

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:14 am

reasonable_man wrote:
prezidentv8 wrote:As a small firm n00b, I am so in on this thread. So much reasonable_advice.



Nice.. What kind of work? Hired as an associate?


Plaintiff-side personal injury and a few other small practice areas. Was working there as a clerk between graduation and bar admission, and was "promoted" to associate after the bar results came out in December.

Good office environment, good co-workers, and I dig the clients. Work itself is hit and miss, but the experience has been very good so far.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:17 am

prezidentv8 wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:
prezidentv8 wrote:As a small firm n00b, I am so in on this thread. So much reasonable_advice.



Nice.. What kind of work? Hired as an associate?


Plaintiff-side personal injury and a few other small practice areas. Was working there as a clerk between graduation and bar admission, and was "promoted" to associate after the bar results came out in December.

Good office environment, good co-workers, and I dig the clients. Work itself is hit and miss, but the experience has been very good so far.



Excellent. Congratulations! What state/metro area?

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:18 am

reasonable_man wrote:
PrezidentV8 wrote:Plaintiff-side personal injury and a few other small practice areas. Was working there as a clerk between graduation and bar admission, and was "promoted" to associate after the bar results came out in December.

Good office environment, good co-workers, and I dig the clients. Work itself is hit and miss, but the experience has been very good so far.



Excellent. Congratulations! What state/metro area?


Thanks man. SF Bay Area for me.
Last edited by prezidentv8 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:34 am

prezidentv8 wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:Plaintiff-side personal injury and a few other small practice areas. Was working there as a clerk between graduation and bar admission, and was "promoted" to associate after the bar results came out in December.

Good office environment, good co-workers, and I dig the clients. Work itself is hit and miss, but the experience has been very good so far.



Excellent. Congratulations! What state/metro area?


Thanks man. SF Bay Area for me.[/quote]

Thats great.. CA is a real tight market. Way to snag one of the few jobs! Kill it!!

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:38 am

reasonable_man wrote:Thats great.. CA is a real tight market. Way to snag one of the few jobs! Kill it!!


Appreciate it! It was a lawwwwwng road gettin' that job, so I plan on running with it!


Also, can't remember where/what kind of practice you're in...?

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Re: Small firm new associate advice

Postby reasonable_man » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:59 am

prezidentv8 wrote:
reasonable_man wrote:Thats great.. CA is a real tight market. Way to snag one of the few jobs! Kill it!!


Appreciate it! It was a lawwwwwng road gettin' that job, so I plan on running with it!


Also, can't remember where/what kind of practice you're in...?


I'm in litigation in NYC. I do a mix of commercial, construction, some general liability and a niche practice that I don't disclose because it's so specialized that I would out myself. I also do some corporate and IP work and I even have about 4 or 5 major personal injury cases that I brought into the firm.




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