On October 25, 2012, the Section of Litigation’s Young Advocates Committee and the Solo and Small Firms Committee presented their first roundtable of the year, “Hit the Ground Running: Success and Business Development Tips for Young Lawyers.” The panel, which was moderated by Katie Larkin-Wong, an associate at Latham & Watkins (San Francisco, California), featured Min Cho, a senior associate at Holland & Knight LLP (Orlando, Florida); Jodi Kleinick, a partner at Paul Hastings LLP (New York, New York); and Alice Paylor, a partner at Rosen Hagood (Charleston, South Carolina). The panelists shared a number of anecdotes and concrete tips on how young lawyers can strategically enhance their profiles, both internally and externally.
Kleinick is the assignments partner for Paul Hastings’ New York litigation practice, which oversees about 60 associates. Reflecting on her own career rising through the ranks and in her capacity as the assignments partner, Kleinick advised that there is no one real path to success; however, there is a consistent strategy for success guided by two major principles: (1) taking initiative, and (2) identifying and making opportunities for yourself. In that vein, she offered six concrete steps to achieve success:
1. Take initiative and ownership. See what more you can do on a matter. Anticipate new matters and ask for responsibility and next steps. Ask, is there more that I can do, or can I participate on a particular issue and assignment? In sum, be hungry in a practical way.
2. Strive for excellence. Do a great job on everything, regardless of the size or importance of the matter or the client. Bring your A game every single time and you will build your internal reputation.
3. Keep current. Pay attention to and be current in the news in general and legal news. If there is anything that is relevant to your cases or matters, circulate those articles and offer to track issues for your team.
4. Identify your interests. Whoever is responsible for your assignments, let that person know what you are interested in. For example, are you interested in more practical experience or work in other legal issues or practice areas? Have a conversation with your senior attorney about your practice.
5. Write. Think of a topic for an article or client alert, then approach a senior attorney to write with you. This will be an opportunity to get your name out there, build a relationship inside your firm, and learn a substantive area of law that you may not already know.
6. Promote yourself. Let others know what you are doing. Spread the word about what you are working on in and outside the firm, especially external activities like articles you have written or motions you have won. This is a real opportunity to talk about what you are doing and help you inventory your achievements for your review.
Paylor frequently advises recent graduates and attorneys in their early years of practice. She offered the following tips for those who may want to move practices, practice areas, and work environments in the future:
1. Network and establish a good reputation inside the firm. By establishing a good reputation inside your firm, you’ll obtain a good reference when you are ready to move on. Examine the job you have and make it the best you can. You will always need positive references. The reputation you should strive for is that you are a hard worker and your work is excellent.
2. Seek opportunities for self-promotion. For example, young lawyers should seek public speaking opportunities and take any and all opportunities to speak.
3. Go to local or county bar events. Meet local leaders in bar associations and the community, which ultimately may lead to finding your next job. This path worked for Paylor in receiving her post as deputy corporation counsel for the City of Charleston.
Being successful is all about self-promotion in doing the best job you can, making the best of every situation you are in, being the best lawyer that you can be, and projecting confidence. Cho lateraled to Holland & Knight after his third year at a larger midsized regional firm in Florida.
Cho advised young attorneys in the first three years to focus on learning the rules. For example, Cho, during his free time, would read the rules, whether the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the evidence code, or the Florida rules. This can be helpful in starting your base as a litigator. However, try the best you can, and know that everyone makes mistakes. But do not beat yourself up over the mistakes. You need to learn from your mistakes. This can build confidence, which is a reinforcing loop.
Paylor noted that being at a smaller firm has its own unique challenges and benefits in marketing yourself to clients. First, a smaller firm may have fewer institutional clients and more individual or “one-hit” (one-case) clients. You constantly have to market yourself to build additional business. One benefit at a smaller firm is that you can market yourself to lawyers at larger firms when those clients have conflicts or smaller firms doing corporate transactional or probate work. In addition, bar association activities are a great way to obtain leadership positions and networking opportunities at the local, state, and national levels.
Cho advised that if are you are a first-year associate, external networking is about doing the little things. First, be strategic about which bar association you become involved in. If you want to stay in the same place, you should become involved in the local and county bars; however, if you think that you may want to move around, you should become more involved in the ABA or broader bar associations. Cho regretted not being more involved in his state bar earlier in his career because the contacts he had met at his first firm did not carry over to his next firm. He had to start from the beginning after making a lateral move to Holland & Knight.
Cho also advised to develop a good network of non-lawyers. For example, do the little things and call your college friends or fraternity brothers in town, develop relationships with them, and take them out. An alternative is to join your alumni club in town and meet people at social events. Once you start moving up the ranks of your law firm, you may be the first person they think of when a legal issue arises.
Kleinick recommended matching your work/life balance priorities or really work/life integration. Kleinick is a single mother and had her child when she was a third-year attorney. She was forced to integrate her work and home life in networking opportunities. First, she recommends to do what you like outside of work. Look at those activities as potential networking opportunities. Then look to marry your interests with potential rainmaking. For example, Kleinick’s son loves the children’s museum, and she wanted to take him there but also become more involved. She joined the museum board and received free passes to the museum. If you like to travel, join some travel groups and next time perhaps a member of the group will reach out to learn more about you. Another option Kleinick has used in the past is to invite clients and their children to a sports game with her and her son. While her son is able to enjoy the sports game with her clients, she is able to develop deeper relationships.
Cho noted that non-billable work is just as important for the firm as billable work, but non-billable work should not be a substitute for billable work. It is a struggle because you are dealing with high demands. He sets his priorities in that he will go home and eat dinner with his family but then work after dinner or on the weekends if necessary.
Kleinick recommended that young lawyers should set aside time for their personal priorities and then work around that time. For example, she will get up at 6 a.m. and do some work before her son rises. In addition, young lawyers should set a goal each month for networking and find a time to achieve the goal.
Paylor suggested that young lawyers should look at every event as a way to meet new people and network. In addition, young lawyers should use their lunch hour to make contacts with lawyers and non-lawyers and build new business.
Paylor advised young lawyers to look for every opportunity to meet people, speak up, and think outside the box. She added that young lawyers should go watch trials if they want to be litigators.
Kleinick recommended that young lawyers look to pro bono work to make connections and develop skills. There are opportunities with pro bono organizations for permanent jobs. In doing pro bono work, you are likely to be on a team working with other firm attorneys; this can allow you to make connections with them and possibly network for jobs through those firms.
Cho suggested that young lawyers keep an open mind about career options. For example, check out nontraditional legal jobs and make sure you look for opportunities to build experience.
Christina Liu is a litigation associate at Andrew M. Hale & Associates, LLC, in Chicago, Illinois.