But the nature of a law firm means there are many shareholders spread throughout the firm managing and supervising associates’ day-to-day activities. While associates can have one partner for whom they primarily do work, there are often other partners for whom they work as well. The upside of this corporate formation is that often any partner can amplify an associate and make them feel valued and appreciated while also raising their profile. Partners are uniquely situated for this role because they have built up a reputation and a book of business for years; highlighting an associate immediately implies that a partner, with their years of experience and the trust of many clients and the firm leadership, sees value in this person and their work.
There are many ways partners can amplify their associates that require very little time from them and often result in amplifying the partner and the firm, too.
Amplify Associates Through External Opportunities
One of the quickest ways to boost an associate’s visibility in the marketplace and inside your law firm is by promoting them for external writing, speaking and leadership opportunities. Not only does it help boost their confidence, but it can also help them build a reputation for subject matter expertise in an area. Here are several types of opportunities that can amplify your associates.
Promote associates for writing and speaking opportunities. “I try to give associates opportunities to write about emerging legal issues because I want to ensure they have the space to develop subject matter expertise in technologies and markets that interest them,” says Allen & Overy partner Jay Gagen. Partners are often provided many opportunities to write about a subject matter, but they can’t possibly take them all on; they can encourage an associate to author (or co-author) the piece instead.
Speaking opportunities are often hard to come by when you’re an associate—every conference organizer wants an impressive name and title on their marquee to attract crowds. But often, the same partners and leaders get tapped over and over to speak at live or virtual conferences and cannot possibly balance all those opportunities with the growth and management of a practice. Additionally, many legal conference sessions consist of “manels” and “wanels” (panels of all-male speakers or all-white speakers—essentially, nondiverse panels that rarely reflect the audience); with associates often being more diverse than your firm’s partnership, sending an associate in your stead will not only allow new voices to be heard, it will reflect the diversity of your firm and your firm’s commitment to developing the careers of diverse legal leaders.
Be ready with your recommendation. The key may lie in having the names of your associates and their qualifications ready for when you receive those opportunities. Instead of just turning organizers down, you can reply by saying: “I’m sorry, I’m not available, but my colleague Jane Doe would be perfect for this opportunity because she has worked on several of our matters involving it, helped prepare my remarks for your last panel and is involved in our local bar association’s initiative on this topic.” A conference organizer will be more likely to consider the associate if you, the organizer’s preferred speaker, recommend them for their credibility and skill and buttress the recommendation with concrete evidence of the associate’s contributions. Several attorneys first got a speaking opportunity when a partner passed it on to them and vouched for their expertise in the subject matter.
A bonus benefit is that not only does the associate gain visibility in the marketplace, but it can help develop their skills as future partners.
Urge associates to create their own thought leadership. Beyond suggesting associates as speakers or writers, you can suggest they create their own thought leadership summarizing events they attend. If an associate attends a conference with you, encourage them to write up their impression of the themes or discussions they heard. Not only will it be a nice departure from the breaking client advisories your firm and most other firms routinely publish, but you can also quickly turn it into business development. In-house attorneys are so busy they can’t attend all the conferences they want; sending your associate’s summary of it can serve a dual purpose in building up your associate’s credibility in the eyes of in-house counsel and increasing your client’s trust in them when you are not available to handle their questions.
Encourage volunteer work to develop leadership skills. Similarly, volunteering with bar or legal aid organizations can encourage associates to develop their skills; they’re not only practicing their business development and networking (which of course helps the firm), but additionally developing leadership skills they may not get a chance to practice much in their day-to-day work. The part you can play in this as a partner is twofold: one, ensuring the skills they develop make it into their performance reviews; and two, assuring associates that the firm values their volunteering in this way and encouraging them to keep participating in it.
Provide Strategic Internal Opportunities To Shine
Introduce your associates to others at the firm. Part of your role as a partner is to encourage collaboration and cross-selling and to help develop the future leadership of the firm. One way to do both of these at the same time is to introduce your associate to partners in other practice groups and offices, as well as business services professionals to boost their visibility and knowledge. It can provide an opportunity for your associate to gain knowledge from other practice areas or matters that could enhance your guidance for your clients, while providing the associate with more stakeholders willing to speak up for them at promotion time.
Encourage them to create internal thought leadership. At Levenfeld Pearlstein, two to three associates work in “study groups” to prepare and present CLE presentations at practice group meetings, providing dual benefits, as partner Kevin Slaughter notes: “Associates increase their substantive knowledge in the course of preparing the materials and are able to demonstrate that knowledge to the entire practice group, including partners they have not worked with directly.”
Transform their thought leadership into business development. Similarly, encouraging associates to create thought leadership internally for the firm can boost their visibility and credibility internally while simultaneously allowing you to drive more business development. A first-year associate who creates a quick overview of the latest cases or agency decisions in your practice area could be relegated to “slides guy” status at your next practice group meeting. But if that internal thought leadership is converted to uses beyond the slides, he or she is regarded as a thoughtful attorney who is on top of emerging issues. You could also start building his or her reputation with your clients as someone who helps their outside counsel team stay on top of issues that could impact them.
Introduce And Promote Associates To Clients
Clients are keenly interested in succession planning at their outside counsel firms—and the diversity of their outside teams. A great way to show them who the firm is investing in and sees as a valuable member of their team is by introducing associates to clients early. A Fortune 500 company general counsel has said that she wants to meet all the attorneys who will be handling her matters, not just her relationship partner. She wants to ensure she knows the people who will likely handle many issues, day in and day out, for her and her team. Beyond that, she wants her rising stars to build relationships with her outside counsel’s rising stars.
Additionally, your associates will learn quite a bit from watching how you interact with clients. While clients don’t want to pay for associates “learning on their dime,” encouraging firm leadership to allow associates billable hour credit for attending client meetings and such (even if such time is not billed to the client) is crucial. It’s true professional development for them, learning how to engage with clients and to set and manage client expectations.
Encourage associates to lead parts of client discussions. In addition to introducing associates to the client team, you can encourage associates to lead discussions. Slaughter explains: “I always encourage associates on a transaction to lead discussions regarding reps and warranties, introduce due diligence issues and/or manage closing deliveries.” He also notes that he’ll meet with them as they prepare to address their questions up front, so he doesn’t “steal their thunder” in front of the client.
Slaughter says this practice benefits both the associates and him. “I have found that this enables associates to develop a sense of ownership with respect to the subject task,” he explains. “Additionally, the associate becomes the go-to person with respect to the subject task, so only certain issues are elevated to me (and at the urging of the associate). This all increases the associate’s confidence and willingness to take on more.”
Ensure you’re providing client interaction opportunities to all your associates. Female attorneys and attorneys of color don’t always get the same opportunities to attend client meetings beyond a pitch meeting which, sadly, they’re often asked to attend to showcase the firm’s diversity—but then they are frequently not involved in the client’s matters again. In-house counsel are keenly focused on the diversity of their outside team as their corporations focus on internal diversity initiatives. Help them see how it’s important at your firm as well.
“Amplifying the voices of associates, diverse associates in particular, is a critical component of talent retention. Opportunities to increase an associate’s profile, either through LinkedIn features or shoutouts, or opportunities to co-lead a CLE or to author an article, convey investment on the part of the firm,” says Kimberly Hulsey, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Locke Lord.
Amplify Associates on Social Media
One quick and easy way to promote your associates without getting up from your desk chair is to amplify them on social media. Firm marketing and social media teams are often too busy sharing firm or partner news to promote what associates are doing. Beyond that, posts from an individual are not only prioritized by the LinkedIn editors (receiving higher scores in the algorithms that editors use to determine how many newsfeeds to display the post within), but posts shared by employees tend to have double the click-through rate of posts shared by a company page. Your engagement with your associate’s post (even in simple ways that take less than five minutes) will boost their post exponentially. Here are four quick ways to amplify your associates on social media.
- Add a comment to associates’ posts. One quick way to amplify your associate on social media is to add just a one-line comment to their post. It doesn’t need to be anything you spend hours crafting; just a simple line agreeing and suggesting that you know your clients are highly concerned about this area is sufficient. It’s often easy to cut and paste a section of their post and note that it resonated with you. Once you add a comment, not only will everyone else who commented on that post see that, but your network of connections and followers will also see it. Suddenly your associate’s post has gotten visibility with your clients, fellow partners and colleagues. It’s a huge boost for your associate that took only five minutes of your time; it reflects well on your firm and its future leadership and can drive business development.
- Share associates’ posts. Resharing a post is another way to lend credibility and visibility to your associate in the marketplace. All you need to do is click the “Reshare post with your thoughts” option at the bottom of their post and add two lines of text about why you’re resharing their post. It can be as simple as sharing why the post resonated with you and why you recommend others read it. For example, you could try: “If you’re starting your own business and are unsure what corporate formation is best for you, check out this simple guide to the pros and cons of different corporate structures written by my colleague Jane Doe.” After your text, just add a blank line and three to five hashtags that are specific topics both summarizing the underlying post and are general topics those who follow that topic may see. You’ve just ensured your associate’s post is now visible to all your connections and followers.
- Recommend associates on LinkedIn. Another quick way to amplify associates on social media is by adding a recommendation to their LinkedIn page. Whereas references that come at the end of a job interview process often serve only to assure an employer a candidate has nothing egregious in their background, your reference on an associate’s LinkedIn page can serve as a customer testimonial for how great it is to work with them. Associates don’t have a long list of cases to rely upon, but your mentioning their skills and great attributes is important for clients and potential clients to see. This can be crucial for summer clerks or interns who are still job searching.
- Encourage their authenticity. One final way to amplify associates on social media is to encourage them to fully embrace and share their personal brand online. Too many newer associates are afraid to share much of who they are, and even if they’re not, they often don’t know how to share authentically on social media. No one is taught how to market themselves and their value differentiators in law school. Many lawyers tend to hide beyond their lawyer suit and share only dry observations that don’t resonate or connect. This problem can be especially pronounced for female attorneys and attorneys of color who may be fighting imposter syndrome and additionally trying to blend in with your firm’s leaders who overwhelmingly do not look like them. They may hide any parts of themselves that are different and focus on just working as hard as possible. But that doesn’t drive connection. People want to work with people they like and want to buy from people they like.
Teach your associates how to embrace their authenticity and see their character traits as value differentiators they uniquely bring to your firm, your clients and the market. Encourage them to share who they are in an authentic way—it will also help your clients and potential clients know the people who will handle their matters. Sharing online is modern business development, so if you can lead by example, that’s great. If not, encourage your marketing and business development team to train your associates on using social media to share who they are and engage with clients authentically.
If you take these simple steps to amplify your associates, it can pay dividends in them feeling appreciated, valued and invested in—and more likely to stick around, says Hulsey: “When associates, especially associates of color—who are often in high demand—are confident of a firm’s investment, they are not only more apt to give and bring their best thinking and work product, they are also more likely to mirror the firm’s investment. That mirroring takes the form of loyalty to and longevity with that firm.”
There are any number of ways partners can amplify associates that not only directly boost their visibility with other partners, your firm leadership, your clients and the marketplace but also reflect well on you and your firm. Take the time today to help develop your firm’s future leaders.