There is no perfect formula for success as a junior associate, but patterns of personal characteristics or best practices across standout associates can be identified. In this article, I share the hallmarks of successful junior associates at my firm, Jones Day. Far from absolutes, these themes are based on my own personal experiences and observations. A valuable insight into any place of employment is what makes people succeed there. As you consider which firm is the best fit for you, I encourage you to consider how standout status is achieved among its lawyers.
Ownership. The dynamics of Big Law can foster a Shepard-sheep mentality among junior associates. Large, hierarchical case teams can tempt junior associates into passivity. The standout junior associates reject that temptation. Take ownership over your responsibilities. Do not wait for every assignment or instruction, be an active member of the team. Invest in your matters, and your work product will be better for it. Take ownership over your career. Actively seek out opportunities to work with the lawyers you want to learn from. Be intentional about working on matters that present opportunities for you to develop and sharpen your skills.
Evolution. No one starts a job knowing how to do everything, let alone do it well. The standout junior associates have a growth mindset, they build on their experiences, incorporate feedback and passive takeaways to evolve moving forward. Learn the preferences of the senior associates and partners you work with. Seek feedback in real-time. Reflect after the completion of a project and note the major practice points you learned from that experience. The majority of your peers will start with the same limited knowledge – how you take the day-to-day lessons from your first 12 to 18 months and apply them is what will set you apart.
Value add. As a junior associate, a key way to add value to the team is through lightening the load of your senior team members. As a junior lawyer, you may not always be able to minimize the burden associated with substantive, strategic tasks. Assisting with organization is often an effective way for junior associates to add value. Monitoring work streams, upcoming deadlines, or checklists will lighten the mental load for your senior team members and create natural opportunities for you to take on more responsibility. Anticipate the needs of the matter and team, and take initiative to propose an action plan. These value adds will not only be appreciated by your senior team members, they will open time in their schedules to allow for further substantive mentoring and engagement.
Understand the big picture. The standout junior associates are not those that avoid asking questions about an assignment. Understanding the what and the why of the task at hand will orient you and facilitate stronger work product, more efficiently. Think critically about the objective of the task, where it fits into the overall goal, and how it furthers the strategy. Seek understanding of the bigger picture and use that knowledge to adjust course as you work towards a deliverable.
Authenticity. Confidence and authenticity go hand in hand, and together they set apart junior associates. People are able to perceive when someone is not being authentic. But more than just unappealing, presenting an inauthentic version of yourself will foreclose your ability to draw on the unique strengths you bring. Standout junior associates exude a confidence than stems from more than legal prowess. We all are the strongest versions of ourselves when we are truly being ourselves.
Jordan Powers is an associate in the Chicago office of Jones Day. The views and opinions set forth herein are the personal views or opinions of the author; they do not necessarily reflect views or opinions of the law firm with which she is associated.
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