7 Tips for New Associates Starting at Big Firms

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on January 07, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you're one of the lucky few law school graduates from the class of 2012 to have a job with a firm, congratulations! You've earned it.

As a new associate, you'll be busy trying to remember names, figure out how to work the coffee machine, and oh yeah, learn how to practice law. To say it's overwhelming is a slight understatement.

While you try to juggle all of your new tasks, here are a few tips to help you survive your first year as a new associate. It's not ground-breaking stuff, but that doesn't make it any less important.

  1. Ask questions. You're a new associate -- emphasis on new. While you're expected to have some idea of what's going on, now is the time to learn. It's OK for first-year associates to ask a lot of questions. It's not OK for second-year associates to ask those same questions, so if you don't know, now is the time to ask.

  2. Find out how work is assigned. Each firm has its own system for doling out assignments, with varying levels of formality. Find out who you should ask for more work when you've finished your tasks so you aren't caught empty-handed.

  3. Be respectful. This is your career and if you want it to last, snarky comments are not going to help. Gossiping about your coworkers will come back to bite you, so it's best to avoid it from the start.

  4. "Thank you sir, may I have another?" No one likes a whiner, least of all your new bosses. When you're given a new task, accept it graciously and commit yourself to completing it. If you really can't do the task justice, find a reasonable way to explain that rather than just complaining about your workload.

  5. Be visible at firm events. The associate no one knows is the last to be promoted. Take advantages of lunches and corporate events to make yourself visible to partners and associates you don't work with directly. It will make all the difference during performance reviews.

  6. Appreciate your support staff. Secretaries and paralegals do a lot of work for the office, and their job is just as important as yours. Don't be condescending and let them know that you appreciate their work.

  7. Learn from the Boy Scouts. Always be prepared, whether it's bringing a notepad and pen to meetings or having a client's number ready rather than relying on a partner to have it. You won't get caught looking foolish and more importantly, looking prepared makes you seem more competent. Win-win.

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