How To Be the Go-To Associate in Your Firm

By Jennifer Andrus

May 10, 2024

How To Be the Go-To Associate in Your Firm


By Jennifer Andrus

You made it through law school and landed that first job at a law firm. Now what? New York State Bar Association member Sarah Gold and the Young Lawyers Section offered a practical program called “Being a Go-To Associate” with tips on how to successfully acclimate to your first job out of law school. Gold starts with what work habits you should employ starting on  your first day.

“Everything about legal practice deals with precision. Check your work, especially if there is AI involved,” she says.

Research and analytic skills can be a double-edged sword in the workplace. Gold encourages new associates to know how to find answers to tough legal questions while prioritizing tasks so they are not spending too much time on one assignment. Continue to work on writing skills and pay attention to the audience, which Gold says is often not lawyers.

In prioritizing tasks, reliability and the ability to meet deadlines will be tested.  “You will get jobs thrown at you. Understand the time needed for those tasks and be reliable and dependable. You will be remembered for following through on your commitments,” Gold advised.

Tips for Office Conduct

  • Arrive early to meetings.
  • Don’t overpromise or underdeliver.
  • If you get buried in work, speak up and tell someone.
  • You can’t fix a problem if others don’t know about it.

Building Relationships and a Strong Work Ethic

Practicing humility and a strong work ethic will serve you well in any workplace. Gold told attendees that she worked for years as a paralegal before attending law school.

“We would see the arrogant new associate and we would remember how they would treat us and others like court staff,” she said. “Respect and kindness will take your far. Develop positive relationships and you will get the assistance you need.”

The legal community is a small one and so don’t burn bridges. The colleagues from law school and those first jobs are likely to be important in your career. Your paths may not cross right away, but they will cross.

Building on the issue of work ethic, Gold laid out tips for being proactive and taking initiative in the workplace.

“Don’t wait to be told what to do. Look for opportunities to contribute, which may be doing pro bono work, marketing at your firm, or helping staff with a project,” she said.

In communicating with others at that first job, Gold reminds young associates that communication in correspondence and in person is a reflection on both you and your employer. Sometimes, Gold admits, it’s best to pick up the phone, even if doing so is uncomfortable.

“Understand your communication with those who are older than you. Some older attorneys may use dictation and have a staff member type it,” she said. “Communicate on their level.”

Maintain a Positive Attitude

As you get acclimated to your workplace, take time to self-evaluate. Gold says there will be days when you say ‘I was a lawyer today.’ Hang onto those positive experiences because they will keep you motivated. If you find you are living in dread and hating the work, start looking elsewhere. Change is not a sign of weakness; you can change your trajectory and do work that makes you happy and fulfilled.

“If you are in a position where the people around you are not in the same mindset, it can be really tough,” she says. “If you are angry at everyone, look for other opportunities to use your law degree.”

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