Everyone knows that marketing oneself successfully to clients is critical to practice development and individual success. But lawyers may not always remember to market themselves to peers and supervisors within the Firm. Ultimately client service may be the primary factor in determination of a lawyer’s income and portability. However, internal marketing to others in one’s firm will also be critical to success. The ability to collaborate with peers and effectively market internally to others in the Firm will impact your long-term career trajectory.
Managing up to senior attorneys in the Firm is largely about effectively marketing yourself in an effort to obtain work assignments and gain experience. Your future with your firm will be based, in part, on how effective you are in progressively gaining more complex work and taking advantage of the learning experience that comes with the handling of legal projects on your own. When senior attorneys have an opportunity to delegate work, they usually have a number of associates and junior partners to choose from. How can you position yourself to get the experience you are seeking?
For starters, performance of excellent work on assigned projects is a must. This includes every assignment, from the most mundane to the most sought after project. When receiving an assignment, make sure that you fully understand all of its parameters, the expected timeline, general guidelines as to time expectations, and the direction in which you should be headed. Ask the assigning attorney all of the questions that you need to get started. Many assigning attorneys may prefer that you do some groundwork before returning with questions, but remember that each supervisor has his or her own procedural expectations. Once an assignment has been completed, ask for feedback. Most young attorneys complain that feedback is rarely given, but often they simply fail to ask for it. If there are areas for improvement, make note for the future. Lastly, ask for further assignments.
Although it may appear to be counterintuitive, most lawyers like to give work to associates who are already busy. This is why you sometimes see both work swamped associates, and idle ones, working in the same practice group. Being busy is an indication to Firm partners that you are trusted by others, and are therefore worthy of their trust.
While it is good to be busy, there comes a point when it can be counterproductive. If you are asked to take on an assignment when you know that you have too much on your plate already, make sure that you talk to the assigning attorney about your other commitments. Nothing can hurt your reputation in the firm more than taking on a matter and not delivering on-time performance. If you are stretched for time, explain to the assigning attorney all of the projects that you are currently working on. If the work needs are critical, ask that the assigning attorney intervene on your behalf with the others desiring your time.
Somewhere between your fourth and fifth year as an attorney in a firm, your source of work, and position in the Firm, may begin to shift. While you were initially only doing work for others, you may be in a position to delegate work to lawyers that are your junior. At the same time the person for whom you are doing this work will still be assessing your capabilities, and ultimately your suitability to join the partnership, not just based on the work that you do, but also on the work product that comes from those to whom you delegate.
You will also have to manage your image. If you have worked at the same firm for your entire career, people have formed opinions about you. Some of them are based on your work product, and others on a variety of other factors, fair or otherwise. If you find yourself cross-wise from anyone with whom you work, now is the time to mend those relationships.
In addition, you should be having more direct client contact. If this is not the case, you should endeavor to discover the reasons why you are not, and the means by which you can develop this experience. While you may receive annual or semi-annual performance reviews, much of what goes into the decision making about your suitability to be a partner at the firm may not normally be discussed in a formal review session. This is a good time, however, for you to ask for feedback, not just in terms of financial or hourly performance, but on the long term prospect for partnership. Once you are under consideration for partnership, it may be too late to mend relationships, so be proactive early.
Marketing to Your Partner Peers
One of the difficult aspects of being in a mid-sized to large law firm is maintaining an ongoing knowledge of what others in the firm are working on. While internal websites or weekly reports on client matters can give you some insight, in reality most people tend to stay focused on immediate work and the concerns of the clients they serve. While this is understandable, a nose-to-the-grindstone approach can cause missed opportunities at cross-selling yourself to peers.
Being office bound can also be a real problem. Communicating in person with your peers is really the only way to stay in touch with what they are doing. Just as you court clients with information that they may need to foster their business and avoid relationship problems, think of doing the same with your colleagues. Sending articles of interest, referring information and asking your peers to lunch is just as helpful internally as it is with clients. In this age of stringent compartmentalizing, you are often at risk of missing opportunities not just because you don’t go after them, but because you don’t know they exist. Just as you plan to spend time with your clients, or focus on keeping them informed about issues important to their business, set aside some time on your calendar to focus on internal clients—your partners.
A proper focus on marketing to internal Firm clients, whether it is an assigning attorney, lateral colleague or fellow partner can go a long way to both develop, and continue, your career.