Meeting the expectations of a big firm partner

LegalJob was recently asked: Any advice for how specific things one can do to separate herself as a star junior associate at an AmLaw 100 firm?

LegalJob was recently asked:


Q:  Any advice for how specific things one can do to separate herself as a star junior associate at an AmLaw 100 firm?


Answer:  Unfortunately, no details were provided about the person’s situation.  The quick answer would be to charge lots of billable hours and make sure you are working efficiently (or working for the right partner or client) such that all your time is chargeable and collected.  For a bit more insight, LegalJob asked an AmLaw 100 firm senior partner for his thoughts on best practices for AmLaw 100 firm associates.  The questions LegalJob asked and the partner’s responses are provided below.

Day to Day
Is face-time important to you?  Yes.  Do you expect associates to arrive before you get in, and to be at the firm until you leave?  To me, this is primarily a question of effort and dedication.  I don’t expect an associate to keep particular hours, and certainly not to arbitrarily be in the office awaiting my whim, but I do want to see enough of the associate to know that he or she is properly focused on his or her career and what I’ve asked to be done.  Put another way:  an associate might be able to do an excellent technical job entirely through electronic means and contact, but I would never be entirely comfortable that they want to work with me or understand my perspective without significant personal contact.

Do you prefer to communicate by e-mail, phone call, or office visits with associates?  All of these are fine.  Do you find associates rely too much on email?  Yes.  Does your answer depend on the time sensitivity of the client matter?  Not really.  I find that associates in general are too absorbed in the technology that surrounds them.

Would you prefer regular meetings with the associate to update you on status of work assignments and current workload?  Yes.  Should the associate initiate those meetings?  Yes.  The associate should treat me as a client in this respect.

Would you prefer the associate check in with you every day if he or she leaves before you or visit with you before you leave?  Yes, but only when convenient as a matter of common courtesy.  Does your answer depend on whether the associate is working on a time sensitive matter?  No.

Receiving work assignments
How do you prefer to handle the assignment process?  I always appreciate an associate approaching me for work, although I have no problem approaching him or her.  How proactive should associates be in seeking out work?  Such proactivity suggests great interest in the firm and a career here.  Whenever their plate is clean?  Before their plate is clean if they can anticipate when they will be finished?  The best associate will regularly keep me informed of the status of his/her “plate.”

Do you want to know if the associate has other assignments in every case?  Or, should they only share that information with you if they believe they may have a problem with a deadline?  He/she should share if he/she thinks it’s germane or if he/she needs help sorting out priorities.

Should the associate manage your expectations with respect to deadline, i.e., tell you it will take longer than they think to avoid disappointment?  If he/she believes I will not understand the truth, he/she might do well to dissemble on this point.  But that would prevent us from having the best relationship that we can have:  one based on honesty and mutual respect.

What is the best way to learn your preferred format and style preferences?  Ask you, ask an associate who has completed assignments from you in the past, ask another partner?  Ask me.

If this is the first time an associate has worked for you should they request a sample memo (or other) format to illustrate your style preferences?  He/she can certainly ask, but I wouldn’t mind learning about his/her individual style.

What questions should the associate ask when receiving an assignment?  The associate should ask how much time I have to discuss the assignment right then, and tailor his/her inquiries accordingly.

Working on projects.
Do you want to know the status of the assignment even if there is no news?  Yes.  How frequently should the associate check in?  That depends on the project, but at least every couple of days.

In all cases would you rather the associate take the extra time to make the work product “perfect” or stick to the deadline (assuming perfect is not possible by the deadline)?  The quality of the work product should reflect the opinion that the associate wants me to have of him/her.  Deadlines can be malleable; quality work is not.  I do place the full burden on the associate to tell me as soon as possible if a deadline is unrealistic; if I disagree, we can discuss.  If “perfect” is not possible by the deadline, the deadline is unrealistic (but may be binding if it’s the client’s deadline).

What is your preference for handling follow-up questions (e-mail, phone, visit)?  In ascending order of complexity.

Would you prefer the associate err on the side of asking you more follow-up questions or just figure out unanswered details on their own?  The more experienced he or she is, the more I would prefer him/her to ask in order to better actualize on his/her higher hourly rate.

In all situations, would you prefer the associate spend as much time as it takes to get the right answer?  Only if I have approved such.

Should the associate bill all of the time spent (including time spent learning the subject)?  If there is a great deal of “learning” time, I want to discuss how much should be written down.  More experienced associates are more susceptible to compensation penalty for poor realization statistics.

Should the associate ask you for suggestions on best place to start (search terms and resource materials) or figure out on their own?  Unless the subject is highly specialized, he/she should know where to start.

Presenting conclusions.
How should the associate present his conclusions?  Always written in a traditional memo format?  Executive one page summary followed by formal memo.  E-mail with answer if time sensitive?  Make an appointment to meet with you?   Does it depend on the assignment?  As with most other things, he/she should simply ask me.  I usually like to discuss the answer before a lot of time is spent (and potentially wasted) commemorating it.  This is my preference even with summer associates.

Should the associate allow enough time before the deadline to revise after presenting the initial conclusions?  Always a good idea.

Preparing for client meetings.
What do you need from the associate?  What I request.  Ask me.

Should the associate expect to attend?  I always make every effort to include an associate whose effort and interest merit such.  I will often discount or blend rates when such attendance is merited from my perspective but not from the client’s.

Other activities
How often should the associate pursue speaking and writing opportunities?  Marketing and professional development must be priorities for any successful associate.  Should the associate ask you about these opportunities or do that on their own time?  If he or she considers me a mentor, he/she is welcome to ask.  Otherwise, I would not presume to require such.

Should the associate regularly participate in firm activities (associate meetings, firm events, summer associate activities, etc.), assuming it does not interfere with work responsibilities)?  If he/she wants to continue to be an associate.  Why is this burden mine alone?

Do you support associates who work for you taking on firm responsibilities, i.e., mentoring, associates’ committee, summer associate program, etc.?  I encourage it.

Work permitting, do you support associates who work for you attending CLEs and firm training programs?  Yes.

If there is anything else on your “dos and don’ts” list for associates, please provide that information here.  Do:  expect the best of me, as I do of you.  Do:  know that I will always make time for you.  Don’t:  ever expect me to take my time to edit your written work for grammar, syntax or punctuation.  Don’t:  fail to respond within a reasonable time to a call or an e-mail from me requiring response during work hours.