Hey guys - sorry for the slow responses here, which I guess illustrates my point about the senior associate years being "live to work." Will try to be a bit quicker on this thread, but things are hectic. I am planning to respond to everything asked in this thread as time permits. - SrA
What the f.supp? wrote:Really helpful responses.
Admittedly very broad, but do you have any tips for biglaw midlevel associates making the transition to senior associate (with aspirations for partnership)? Skills to hone, things to avoid, etc.
Also, as you're managing junior and midlevel associates more and more, what do you do when they have a mistake in their work (something nonobvious, say a few citation errors in a brief) that you review and then pass along to the partner without catching? Are those mistakes ultimately on you since you were the last to review before sending to the partner? I'd be grateful for your thoughts on how you might handle. Hasn't happened to me yet but it's only a matter of time.
These are good questions and I have a lot to say, so this might get long.
Skills to hone: The year you're up for partner, what will you give as your 4-5 sentence "elevator speech" response to the question, "What's your business case why we should promote you to partner?" If you're a 4th-6th year associate who knows you want to make partner, write out now what you want the answer to that question to be as an 7th-10th year associate going up. Then work back from there, year by year, to make your own pre-partnership tasklist. Here are some topics to consider:
- What are your specialty area(s)? This is important to position yourself as a partner candidate. "I'm a general litigator so call me when you have a general litigation need" isn't a great sales pitch. You want the partnership to think of you as, "S/he's the guy/gal who can add expertise in X, Y, and Z areas we want to build out in our practice, but s/he's also a well-rounded overall litigator who can be the junior partner on any matter where we have a need." Adjust this comment slightly if you're in patent lit or another specialty area, but the same theme largely applies.
- What will your flagship practice experiences be? Make sure you're on a mix of cases that round out your depo experience, get you into trial as much as possible (unless you're a specialist in a low/non-trial area like class action, and *even then* consider having a second area that gets you trial work), and showcase your ability to manage large and complex matters (ideally you can point to supervising at least one large team of associates, being the lead associate on a case with one massive document production and a large reviewer population, superintending several complex motions (cross-MSJs with under seal component, motions for class cert, etc.)) Re trials: it can be hard to gain in-court speaking experience when you "go to trial" as a biglaw lit associate, but fight for it. Angle for at least one witness at first in paid cases, then use the kickass job you do with that witness to negotiate for more at-bats. Also, use pro bono hearings/trials and contingency fee cases where there are no clients demanding that partners handle hearings to make the case that you're good and experienced on your feet in court.
- What will your flagship business development contributions be? If you've got a 5M book, then stop reading here. If not, you've got to show your firm in other ways that you're someone who will grow the pie long-term. Think in terms of ensuring you're making direct contributions to growing the immediate bottom line (active roles in pitches, cross-selling existing clients, etc.) and positioning yourself well for the long-term (profile-raising, networking in venues where you'll meet current and potential future clients, organizing such client development events for your firm, etc.) You should be making *significant* contributions of non-billable hours on these fronts for 3-4+ years before you're up, if you want to maximize your chances.
- Who are your key partner backers? Obviously, you want at least one heavy-hitter partner "sponsor" in the stratosphere of the partnership to go to bat for you if you can manage it. If you don't have that person yet, as a midlevel, you should identify the one or two most likely candidates and deliberately work on cultivating your relationships with them (I can make some suggestions on this if that would be helpful). For best results, you also want to ensure broad-based support among the partners in your group and office AND to show demonstrated relationships with partners in other groups and offices that will facilitate client relationships down the line (i.e., ideally as a senior associate you are receiving some client referrals from partners elsewhere in the firm (even if you are nominally supervised by a partner in your group) and are making such referrals to other partners.)
- Are you someone who cultivates associates and who naturally forms mentoring relationships with your juniors/midlevels? May vary by firm but mine thinks this is very important for partner candidates. Even if not explicitly valued in the partnership process at your firm, the quality of your team's work is partly based on your ability to lead people loyal to you. That's a tough dynamic to cultivate in the pressure cooker world of biglaw, which requires you sometimes to be the asshole who asks these folks to sacrifices their nights and weekends and cancel their personal plans for the sake of a client or business development need. Do what you can to form these relationships and advocate for "your" associates' professional development (not just because you want to make partner but because supporting the juniors who work hard for you is the right thing to do.) This was one of the hardest things for me to learn how to do in making the mid-->senior transition.
- What are your contributions to the firm and the legal community beyond billables and mentoring? Again, may vary by firm, but mine likes to see 1-2 key "citizenship" contributions (firm committees, nonprofit board service, etc.). You should be selecting areas that are important to you while also facilitating in-firm or external networking and ideally advancing your profile in the legal community.
That's all the time I have for now, so I'll respond to your remaining questions separately. (Also: sorry this post got so long. I essentially decided to write out everything I wish I'd known on this topic at the end of my 4th year in the hope it might be useful to others of roughly that vintage.)