Working in a large firm for the summer and being hired before graduation is one of the coveted positions many law students want to be in. Whether attorneys end up in a large firm setting or not, chances are they have interacted with players in the big world of Big-Law. While this world is not completely unvisited or mysterious, succeeding in a big-law setting requires some reframing.
To start with, many new big-law lawyers are unsure about how to be a good employee.
Here are a few pointers:
First, be a self-starter and seek out work. You may be the most formidable legal mind in the building, but if you are underperforming or underutilized, you are far from an asset. From the start, it is important to demonstrate that you are a team player and that you are willing to take initiative in finding and taking on work. You may not have the expectation to have to seek out or book clients, but you need to find work with that same fortitude. If firms partners see that you are being proactive and passionate about your work, they are more likely to entrust you with important responsibilities and interesting matters.
Second, find a mentor.
The ecosystem of a large firm requires cooperation and an informal succession of responsibility from senior to junior associates. You might be able to go through law school in a self-reliant manner, with no help; but practice is a different game. It is critical to find a partner or senior associate to both guide you professionally and personally. You are responsible for your own career development, and the best way for you to learn to soar is to seek out wiser birds who have flown before you.
Third, learn how to say no and yes.
On one hand, you can’t be afraid of saying no. Avoid missing deadlines and fumbling extra work—otherwise you have shown that you cannot handle it. Law is a long career and burnout is a real thing. You need to be willing to say “no” so that you balance a workload that keeps you busy and shows initiative, but that does not show you cannot handle juggling multiple deadlines. A great mentor is invaluable in a scenario where you find yourself trying to meet impossible deadlines, and can potentially help take some projects off of your plate. This doesn’t mean you never say yes! You can’t turn down projects because you want to enjoy your weekend. Remember that you must demonstrate that you can be counted on to get the work done—which means you only say no when it affects completion.
Fourth, it’s never to early to network and start building relationships.
The practice of law is farm from a pure meritocracy. Networking alone doesn’t transform a poor associate into a partner, but it does catapult competent attorneys to the front of the line. Make sure that you interact positively with all of your contacts; treat everyone you interact with as if they were a client or potential client. Remember that business can come from the unlikeliest of contacts. Developing great relationships is key to moving up. Demonstrating that you have the ability to bring more business into your firm puts you ahead of the curve. Balancing this with a heavy workload is tough, but doable if you network more efficiently.
Finally, be aware of the trends of the legal industry.
Most associates will lateral to another firm—and odds are, so will you. Finding a firm that fits during different stages of your career is part of the equation. Somehow, you will need to discover the discrete identify and cultures that create a setting from which you have the greatest chance of success. This is difficult to do without outside help, and this is where a good recruiter can pay dividends.