How to Get in the Room

Paige M. Willan

As a new attorney—particularly if you are a junior associate at a large or a mid-sized law firm—you may have had the experience of pouring heart and soul into a case or a deal, only to be left sitting in your office when a big client meeting or an important hearing happens. With high client consciousness about legal budgets, it can be hard to justify the cost of having a junior attorney attend such events. Having those opportunities, however, can be critical for a new attorney’s career. To accomplish your goals, you have to be in the room when the big event occurs. But how do you get there? Here are a few tips about procuring an invite.

Make Yourself Indispensable

If you are a newly minted attorney, or have only been practicing for a year or so, you still have a lot of learning to do. You can make up for your lack of experience, however, by becoming the absolute master of the details of a case or a deal. You will likely see more of the documents related to a matter earlier in time than any partner or senior associate. Memorize the information that you find in those documents—dates, names, emails, key events, patterns of behavior. Every time that you have an interaction with a partner or a senior associate, treat it like a hearing before a judge—a situation where you absolutely must know the answer to every question asked. If the senior members of your team see you as the repository of all of the details of a matter, even the ones that they have not yet mastered, they will view you as important to have in the room as a reference.

 

Get Out of Your Box

As a junior associate, you may have been given only a small piece of a larger matter to work on, and perhaps only a brief summary of the background of the matter. Be curious and teach yourself about the issues that are outside your bailiwick. Look for basic materials—pleadings, memos, motion papers—and review them. Do quick searches on the web for companies or individuals who appear in documents or pleadings. If an event, such as a client meeting or a deposition, has occurred to which you have not been invited, drop by and ask a senior associate or a partner who did attend the event about how it went, so that you keep abreast of developments in the matter. By getting out of the box of your limited assignment, you may be able to identify an important document or find support for an important proposition that will advance your client’s interests, but that is more than you have been asked to do. In addition, even if going above and beyond your narrow assignment does not result in an immediate invitation to be in the room with the senior attorneys, this habit adds value to your reputation in general and demonstrates that you are invested in the case. Ultimately, having a reputation as someone who can be counted on to perform at a high level will generate opportunities for you to take on significant responsibility and try new skills. When taking such initiative, however, be careful to follow any guidelines about what is billable and what is not billable.

 

Be Likeable and Invested

Most senior attorneys enjoy the opportunity to help a new lawyer grow. But senior attorneys have also seen a lot of new lawyers, and they may be wary of investing time and effort in one who is not dedicated to the profession or to his or her job. You must demonstrate that you are worthy of a potential mentor’s time and effort. Be enthusiastic about what you are doing. Be invested in the outcome for your client and your organization. If your firm has an observer program, use it; if not, ask about starting such a program to encourage associate development. Demonstrate that you are working on your professional development on your own time in addition to doing a great job on your client work. If senior attorneys see that you invested in your own success and are therefore a good investment of their own time as a mentor, they will try to create opportunities for you to be in the room.

Following these tips will help you get your foot in the door. Once you are there, listen, learn, and, when the right opportunity presents itself, let yourself shine.

Paige M. Willan

Paige M. Willan is an associate at Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.