chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
July 11, 2011 Articles

New Associates: Build Up Your Goodwill Before Taking Personal Time

So you are a new associate at your law firm. After a summer clerking and working nine to five, you may be wondering what is expected of you. In a word: everything!

By Bart Greenwald

So you are a new associate at your law firm. After a summer clerking at the firm and pretty much working nine to five with time off for fun and frolic, you may be wondering what is expected of you.

In a word: everything! You should be the first one in the office in the morning to turn the coffee pot on and the last one to leave and turn it off. You should expect to do this for your first six to 12 months as a new attorney at your firm. It may not seem fair, but we all did it and many of us still do. Law firms pay associates good money. And no successful person, in law or business or any other field, ever got to a position of success by phoning it in.

First impressions are lasting ones. If you’re getting to work after your boss and leaving before she leaves, that’s not a good thing.

Not only will this work ethic build your reputation as a team player, but it will give you the goodwill to take time off for personal reasons when you really need to. You won’t have to “make coffee” forever, but make sure you do it long enough to build up trust.

I don’t mind when a new associate says she has to take the day off to drive her mother to the airport, move into a new house or go on a business trip with her husband. I don’t even mind it if the associate comes to work late because traffic is bad or she needed to run a few errands. We are adults. We are professionals. We are not slave drivers (hear that associates, I repeat, we are not slave drivers). However, what I and my fellow partners detest is the associate who doesn’t come to work until 10:30 a.m. every day, and who takes the day off to drive her mother to the airport the day after she moved into a new house, which was two weeks after she accompanied her husband on a business trip. OK, so I exaggerate a little. It’s not that bad, but sometimes it’s close.

When I was first hired by my firm, I bought a house and moved into it less than 30 days after starting work. I didn’t ask for the day off. I didn’t even suggest taking time off. What I did was set my closing for 4 p.m. on a Friday and moved over the weekend. When I later told my section chair, he thought that was ridiculous. He probably was right. However, in my mind, I was building up my goodwill. Sometimes, you just need a day off to take care of business, or you get sick, or you have to drive your mother to the airport—but that day does not need to be during your first year.

Just recently, I had a new associate build up his goodwill with me in a matter of days. I was preparing for trial and asked him to work on a few research projects, which turned into a few more and a few more. We ended up staying late several nights and working into the weekends. He never complained, and at one point, when I found out that his in-laws were in town, I flat out told him to go home and be with his family.

The point here is simple. Build up your goodwill with your partners first. Show that you can put in the hours. Show that you can stay late whenever asked, not just when it’s convenient for you. Show that you are willing to come in early when needed—or just come in early anyway. After some time of doing this, you will build up your “go to hell day” goodwill and show the partners you can be trusted to get the work done.

For your managing partners, there is nothing more aggravating than working with an associate who is only there half the time and you never know which half. So, build up your goodwill first, and once you have built it, then you can take off whenever you really need it. First impressions are lasting ones. Earning the trust of your partners is not optional, but critical to your success.

Bart Greenwald, Esq.

Copyright © 2011, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).