The Secrets of Superstar Associates

Tom Hentoff
Partners want an associate who takes ownership of a case. They don’t want to always have to check in and check up on the associate.

Partners want an associate who takes ownership of a case. They don’t want to always have to check in and check up on the associate.

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Superstar associates are easily spotted. They are young attorneys who establish that they can handle as much responsibility as is thrown at them, and want more. Long before they are up for a vote, their election to the partnership is all but a foregone conclusion.

What separates the superstars from the rest of us? Why do some associates so clearly outshine their peers, even those with seemingly equal or greater natural gifts? Do superstars share certain habits or routine practices foreign to the merely good, or even very good, associates? And do those habits and practices simply arise from innate characteristics, or can they be learned? What can a new lawyer learn from superstar associates to help earn trust and gain responsibility?

In search of answers, I interviewed a dozen young partners whom colleagues had identified as former superstar associates. In wide-ranging and candid discussions, they told me what they thought contributed to their success. They also gave advice.

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