Why should you care enough to invest your precious time in reading this book? The answer is simple. In our opinion, associates who communicate well with all levels of personnel in the law firm hierarchy succeed and those who do not fail. A standard response by senior partners, when asked to explain why some associates are asked to leave or are passed over for partnership, is that “They just didn’t ever get what it takes to be successful. They didn’t seem to understand how to meet expectations, to perform at the level we expect and require.”
Those who are accepted to law school, graduate and receive associate offers have already experienced academic success and are from a very select group. You are highly intelligent and accomplished and are members of the academic elite, accustomed to success and recognition. Surely you must possess the attributes success requires. But here is the disconnect...what is required for success in law school involves a much narrower skill set than what is required to succeed in the law firm and in the practice of law. Unfortunately this broader skill set is seldom taught or even discussed in academically focused law schools.
The good news is that the skills needed for success in the law can be learned, acquired and perfected. And what are these traits, these skills that will lead to success? That is what this book articulates, step by step. And when you acquire these skills, when you start to understand the full meaning of what it takes to get along, you will find that they will become second nature for you and will serve as your roadmap to navigate not only the challenges of the practice of law, but those of living a balanced and fulfilled life.
The chapters of this book hold keys to understanding:
- How to learn to effectively communicate with everyone you meet and build lasting relationships that can sustain you and advance you as your career progresses;
- How to create a strong and lasting good impression from the beginning of your career and how to nurture that reputation of competence and excellence throughout your career;
- How to development communication skills that will allow you to understand and meet the expectations of those who rely upon you;
- How to prioritize responsibilities and challenges at work and in relationship to your life; and
- How to understand others so that you can best relate to them and accomplish your goals regardless of whom you are asked to work for or with or what type of projects you are given.
Does all of this sound too ambitious? Are you questioning if the authors truly understand the challenge of success in today's legal environment? Good. A good lawyer always questions. But the authors are convinced that if you have read this far you are the type of person who does not want to leave things to chance. After all, if you are like most lawyers, you have invested thousands of dollars in your law school education and may have significant student loans to repay. This investment is on top of the three or more years of you life that were devoted to the study of law and postponement of work and income. While your law school may have done a good job of preparing you to do legal research and write a brief or memo, we suspect that little, if anything, taught in your law school truly prepared you to succeed in the high stakes, high pressure social environment that is a law firm. And the sad fact is that many a law firm associate's career and life have been derailed by simply failing to make a good first impression, alienating attorneys or staff; disappointing a clients; or losing a significant personal relationship along the way. The authors have written this book to help associates avoid such pitfalls.
It has been a while since associates apprenticed with experience lawyers (as occurred in the early days of legal advocacy), taking time to learn the legal ropes and observe the styles and approaches of difference personalities as applied to varying venues and situations. The mentor/apprentice relationships of yesteryear seem quaint by today's standards of professional development.
Today in most law firms, senior attorneys would say that there is no time and little inclination to individually focus on educating and supporting younger lawyers; the clocks tick faster and faster; and for the most part, the brightest and best the law schools produce just have to "figure out" how to actually practice law. Sophisticated legal clients are demanding and the competition is fierce. Modern productivity tools, rather than giving lawyers more time, actually discourage reflection in the race to get the work done quickly and out of the door. Sadly, high IQs, law review positions, and prestigious law school degrees make little difference when staff and colleagues refuse to work with you. Long days and brilliant legal analysis do not matter if you cannot carry on conversations when joining partners and prospective clients for lunch. Skills that were rewarded in law school by honors and publications will not be enough to assure assent to equity partnership.
The law firms we know are keenly aware that competition for clients and the lawyers to serve them brilliantly is intense. Younger lawyers, reflecting the diversity of today's workforce and cultural values, often have very different expectations and aspirations than the more senior, often predominantly male generation of senior partners who began their practice in a different era. So it is not so ironic that the failure rate of associates who are recruited to law firms and subsequently leave on their own or at the request of the firms is very high. And this failure rate occurs notwithstanding the fact that most of these associates had unblemished tract records of academic success prior to joining the law firms. Law firms bemoan the high economic costs of attrition as associates leave, often just as they have become truly productive. And law firms are struggling with ways to avoid losing their best and brightest at the same time they are shedding those they see as less productive and adaptive.
Emerging global economies, diverse work forces, 24/7 days, and more sophisticated and demanding clients have all contributed to the need for improving communication. Relating positively with colleagues deepens loyalties, expands trust, and allows creative, productive work environments and is foundational to communication efforts. Working with strong personalities who can be singularly focused on providing excellent legal service can have its challenges. But within every challenge there is opportunity, and the legal profession is a career worthy of the effort.
Burnout is endemic in the practice of law. Too many attorneys turn to drink, drugs, or risky behavior to deal with the stress of unmet expectations of themselves and their lives. Even those who avoid these serious social problems often wonder what happened to the passion that propelled them to go to law school in the first place. They want and demand more from their career than just a paycheck, a nice car, a big house, and expensive toys that they often have no time to enjoy.
The tools are here, in these chapters. As you read them, you will hear the voices of associates from around the country who were interviewed about their experiences. The authors respond to these voices with concrete action steps that you can begin implementing from your first day as an associate. The journey begins with an understanding of lawyers as people. What do they need and how might those needs be different from the non-lawyer population? What’s the impact of first impressions and how can we best predict the qualities needed to be successful in the practice of law? It continues with analysis of the law firm and individual lawyer cultures and frames of reference that shape individual success in interpersonal interactions. Tips for becoming an effective communicator in all relationships are emphasized. The authors provide critical tools to help prioritize responsibilities and manage difficult situations, including learning how and when to say no to assignments. The final chapter gives insights into the special problems faced by lateral associates as they try to integrate into their new firms.
The information included here is designed for you to get a leg up on being the best legal advocate and service provider to both internal and external clients, and on being your best professional self. The authors of these pages are providing their tried-and-true suggestions that come from their experiences of practicing law, supervising and delivering associate training, and consulting with law firms nationally and internationally. The suggestions aren’t intended to be formulaic, and there are no guarantees that these approaches are the only way to get along. But these techniques can and have worked for many associates in diverse work environments.
Think of this book as your owner’s manual to your law firm associate career. Read and follow its instructions and you will avoid many pitfalls that are endemic in the profession. Keep it close and refer to it when the problems and situations it addresses arise—and they will arise. The authors are excited about taking this journey with you. Let’s begin!