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August 25, 2022 Young Lawyers

Five Tips to be a Superstar Associate

By: Ryan Ranson

Starting a new job or working for a new boss can be intimidating. It’s important to remember that these people were once in your shoes. With a little effort and attention to detail you will be the one that comes to mind when that next promotion is available.

Here are five tips to be a superstar associate:

  1. Show me the Money!

    If you really want to be a superstar associate and impress your boss, the best way to do that is to bring in clients. This may also be beneficial to your paycheck, as most firms allow a percentage of the fee to be paid to the referring associate.

    At first, this task can seem daunting, as you have most likely just graduated law school, and do not have a large referral base. Nevertheless, there are some great ways to generate business and simultaneously improve your own network.

    A good rule of thumb is that when you enter a room, everyone there should know who you are and what you do. While this is unlikely to happen at first, this is something you can work on. Make it a point to go around the room and shake everyone’s hand and pass out your cards. Talk to your waiter and bartender to let them know what you do. Eventually you will be recognized, and those people will keep you in mind when they have business to refer.

    Another great way to generate business is to join BNI (Business Networking) groups. These groups are usually easy to find by doing a Google search for your area, and many BNI groups have specialized groups. For example, if you are interested in golf, you could join a networking group that plays golf once a month. You will have the opportunity to meet new people while doing something you enjoy. Attending these groups regularly will allow you to build relationships and be known as the go-to attorney in that group—eventually they will send you cases.

    Be a Go-Giver! A Go-Giver is someone who refers cases to other attorneys. If a friend or family member needs to hire an attorney for an issue your firm doesn’t handle, send them to a firm you have a relationship with. They will remember who sent them cases and keep you in mind for future referrals. Make sure you follow up to remind them you referred the case and are happy to help when they have clients to refer.

    Remember, your network is your net worth!
  2. Dress to Impress!

    Close your eyes and envision what you think an attorney looks like. Now open your eyes and ask is that what you look like each day you go to work? If not, maybe it’s time to prioritize your appearance.

    The firm you work for is a brand. Your appearance and work product are an extension of that brand. Clients pay top dollar for your firm’s services and expect a quality product in return. You should work to maintain a professional look. This is even more important when meeting with clients or attending court, Zoom meetings, or depositions. Saying “my boss doesn’t wear a tie to depositions” is not an excuse for you to do the same (See #4).

    Rather, take initiative to show up and look the part each day. It is important to make sure you have business attire that fits well and is clean. Take a trip to the tailor or seamstress, even for an old suit, they can do wonders. Further, keep regular grooming appointments and take pride in your appearance. Clients and colleagues will remember the attorney who looks the part and takes their job seriously.

    More importantly, your boss will see that you care and will look to you when that next promotion is available.
  3. Be Considerate- Do the Work Before You’re Asked

    It is important to understand that your supervising attorney’s time is very limited. Not only do they have timely deadlines to finish but may be working to finish projects for their supervisors. If your supervisor must remind you what you’re supposed to be working on, then; 1) you aren’t being considerate, and 2) you will quickly find yourself on that person’s bad side.

    Instead, make a checklist of all deadlines and mandatory filings for your case. For example, in most states for a dissolution of marriage, there will be mandatory filings of financial statements, disclosures, and other documents that will need to be prepared for every case. When you finish one assignment, start working on what must be filed next—even if your boss did not assign the work yet.

    Likewise, if you see a discovery deadline coming up, feel free to draft discovery requests or prepare subpoenas for key witnesses. Then you can reach out to your boss and let them know, 1) there is an upcoming deadline, 2) you have taken the first shot at completing the work (without being asked), and 3) ask them for feedback. Even if the boss decides not to use your work, they will be impressed you took initiative and will keep you in mind for more rewarding work moving forward.    
  4. Do as I Say, Not as I Do

    It can be tricky to deal with a boss who says one thing and does another.

    For example, what if my boss demands I am at work on time, but doesn’t come in until hours later? Or my boss asks us to work late, but leaves work at 3:00PM everyday? What if my boss lays by the pool all day and asks you to hand deliver printed papers (because they can’t swim and print at the same time)?

    The answer is your boss worked hard and has earned the right to take shortcuts, you have not. Keep your head down and be the model associate others can look up to.  Your boss and fellow associates are paying attention.

    In addition, some associates may experience their boss disregarding their own instructions for an assignment when they complete the work. For example, a boss who drafts a motion and leaves blanks for important information or exhibits to be filled in later. Others may note their boss doesn’t proofread their work or it contains grammatical errors. While these short cuts may work for your boss, who is likely drafting and reviewing many documents, it is not permission for you to do the same thing.

    Instead, focus on preparing completed and thorough work. You likely have time that your boss does not. Use that to your advantage and take extra time to fill in key information and important exhibits—even if that’s not the way your boss does it.  Your boss was once an associate too and had to work their way up. You have not earned the right to take shortcuts yet, so do what your boss says and not what they do. You will be on your way to the top!
  5. Follow the Golden Rule

    We all know it and we all forget it at times—treat others the way you want to be treated.

    If a staff member, paralegal, or legal assistant makes a mistake, don’t throw them under the bus for your own recognition. Instead, work with them to avoid the mistake in the future. While your boss may not know the extra work you put in, the staff will remember, and you will earn their trust.

    Staff members have most likely been at your firm much longer than you have. They know the ins and outs of the firm and can be a huge help to your success. Senior staff works closely with senior partners, and they will share their experiences working with you. Let them sing your praises!

    Further, having a positive attitude and creating a more pleasant work environment will not go unnoticed by your boss or staff. No one wants to work at a firm with people who are difficult or negative. This energy spreads throughout a firm and can create a toxic work environment. Strive to be the bright spot for your firm and be positive when others are negative.

Follow these tips and your boss will know you are a superstar!

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Ryan Ranson

Esq., Fort Lauderdale, FL

Ranson & Ranson, PLLC

ABA FLS Young Lawyers Committee Vice-Chair