Getting Noticed As An Associate

As a younger attorney, focusing on proving yourself and doing a good job are very important, but so is developing a comfort level in interacting with the (more senior) people you are working for, whether it’s a senior partner or one of your clients.  Most junior lawyers don’t think about this. I know I didn’t. I did what I was told. Instead of being proactive, I was purely reactive. Was this a disaster?  No. But I bet I missed out on a lot of opportunities.

Consider the last meeting you were at where there was a partner running the meeting with the clients. Did you participate in the discussion or just sit quietly at the table?

Are you a believer in this view: “If you sit there quietly and say nothing people may ‘think’ you’re stupid but won’t be sure, but if you open your mouth you will remove all doubt about it.”

Certainly, I was that way for many years. It was basically because I was intimidated and afraid to open my mouth for that very reason.

If you are quiet and passive and do great work, you will do okay, but if you are outspoken and positive you will do much better. Every day is a chance to market yourself.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Practice an elevator pitch: Assume someone asked you something open-ended like:  “Hey Toby, tell me about yourself. What’s your story?”  What would you say?  You could talk about your sailing hobby, or you could talk about your career and desires. Maybe say something like:  “Well Bruce, I have been at the firm for a year and a half now and I really find myself just loving the joint venture deals. Don’t get me wrong, that I don’t like other stuff too, but the joint ventures seem to fit my personality and the way my brain works. It is sort of like playing chess in the future. I love those deals and hope I get a chance to do a lot more of them.”  Saying something like that makes an implied statement about you that you are smart, eager, focused, and developing key skills. If I were the partner in charge of you, I might not realize it at that moment, but I would certainly be earmarking you for more work on joint ventures.
  1. Introduce yourself: If there is a meeting, introduce yourself confidently with an appropriate handshake and make eye contact. “Hi, my name is Toby. I am Bruce’s associate on this deal. I am really looking forward to working with you on this.”
  2. Ask your colleagues: If you are treated like a potted plant at meetings by the partner you work with, screw up your courage and ask the partner. Maybe something like:  “You know, Bruce, I appreciate the chance to work on the deals, but one concern I have is that I don’t get a real chance to participate in the meetings. I would love it if maybe you could include me in the conversations a bit. I assure you I won’t let you down and say something foolish.”  This may go nowhere I admit, but it may go somewhere you should admit. In any case, you have little to lose in having this conversation and perhaps everything to gain.
  3. Learn about your industry: As I have said repeatedly in prior articles, knowledge is power. So learn everything you can about your industry. If you know the topic du jour it is much easier to participate.
  4. Something gutsy and creative: Before you go into the meeting with a client and the partner, Google the client and learn about her. Perhaps she has a charity she supports. Imagine how cool you will look when you say: “Hi, my name is Toby. I am Bruce’s associate on this deal. I am really looking forward to working with you on this. Also, I looked you up before our meeting and we share a passion in saving whales. I am really impressed with your work on the Save the Whales Initiative.”
  5. Connect with the other associate: Okay, perhaps the team at the table is just above your pay grade or you are just too intimidated to speak to a captain of industry when you are a junior associate. Fair enough. However, certainly, you aren’t afraid to speak to the other junior associate in the room. Possibly she feels the same way. So go ahead and make a friend. Someday she may be your biggest client or you may be hers. You are playing in the same sandbox so build a sand castle together.
  6. If you have an idea, say it for heaven’s sake: I am sure you have been sitting in a meeting and you think you have a thought or perspective that no one else has. It is bubbling up and you are almost about to speak, but you just chicken out and then the moment passes and it is too late, and you missed your chance. Next time that happens, just don’t do that. Speak!  Let it fly. The worst that happens is your idea is a dud and, okay, you don’t have the happiest feeling. But if it is a good thought, well, then suddenly you are participating in the conversation

Ultimately, the advice here comes down to one thing, which is not being afraid. I admit I was afraid for years as a junior associate as it is completely natural in a new unfamiliar setting. But you don’t have to make the same mistakes I made. So I urge you to go for it and see what happens.

The Formula For Success In Rainmaking: This Is Exactly What To Do — Truly!

I have been asking myself a few questions lately. Why is it that many of the top rainmakers still cold-call people when they don’t have to do that anymore? Why do some people succeed in building incredible legal careers and others just don’t? What makes it happen — and what makes it fail to happen?

Of course, no one really “knows,” but I think I have some insight that I will share.

Part of this insight is based on my informal empirical observation of successful rainmakers — and people who fail to make rain — over many years.

And another part of this insight comes from a very interesting book I read recently called The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success, written by Albert-László Barabási, in which he tries as scientifically as possible to evaluate what makes people “successful.”  As a side note, I heartily recommend this book as one you might want to give to your kids or cousins or people in their late teens and early 20s. Or, if you are in your 20s right now, don’t miss this one for sure. I wish I had read it then….

Anyway, here is what I have come up with.

People who succeed in making rain instinctively know that their “network” is the key to success or failure. To be clear, I am not talking about what we all know as “networking.” My point here is related, but at heart, different than that. It is that successful rainmakers sense that the more other people in their industry are aware of what they are up to, the more likely it is that good things will happen.

To delve a little deeper, when you think about it, you can’t really predict what will happen in any particular situation. You start out each year and probably write down some goals for client acquisition. Then at the end of the year, you probably forget to even compare the goals to what happened; however, if you do compare, you will likely find that whatever you planned for didn’t happen; however, other things happened — hopefully better than the ones you planned for. Life — and business — are too unpredictable.

So when you think about it, success or failure comes down to a game of statistics. You don’t know what will happen in any particular situation, but you do know that if you do a lot of things — and you do them well — good things are likely to happen. I make this point in my book, If You Want to Get Rich, Build a Power Niche.

Successful rainmakers figure this statistical theorem out — either intellectually or instinctively — and then act on it.

They realize that simple things like…

  • Being super responsive;
  • Making 1000 percent sure that their reputations are fantastic;
  • Letting people know what they are super-great at; and
  • Being “different” so others remember them

… will all help them in growing their network and increasing the — statistical — chances that they will be successful in client acquisition.

In the Formula book I referenced above, Barabási has his first law of success: “Performance drives success, but when performance can’t be measured, networks drive success.”

For example, consider your legal practice — either yourself or your group or your law firm. You or your team may be fantastic in every category that you could be evaluated in. But if there is not a formal measuring scale, how could you “prove” this to a third party? And with legal work, there is almost never a measuring scale.  Even your competition who is dumb as a post and completely incompetent will likely be saying that she/he is super-good as a lawyer in your specialty area, right?  If so, all that will matter to a prospective third party is who says they are better, better (so to speak).

Since you can’t really prove you are “better” to a third party, then if you follow Barabási’s first law, you need to figure out how to effectively use your network to drive success.

My saying is similar to Barabási’s and it is: “It’s the network stupid!”

To finish up this article, here is a quick list of things I think someone should do to drive successful long-term performance in client acquisition (some of which I have written about before):

  • Make sure you have something you can take a reasonable position that you are the absolute best at (i.e., a Power Niche).
  • Get your network started (i.e., the people you know should be aggregated into a single list).
  • Let these people know what you are doing.
  • Be a friendly teammate to others — even your competition – as people tend to move around networks.
  • Be super responsive — don’t blow people off.
  • If you say you are going do to something, do it.
  • Be out and about constantly — in person, by email, however you like to do it, although I have a sense so-called “social media” is less effective.
  • Be different from everyone else so you don’t get forgotten.

And things — good things — will happen to you. You will not be able to predict the clients you will actually get, but you will get clients. And as you keep doing this they will happen more and more.

Good luck!

P.S. I note that this article is adapted from my recent article published under my pseudonym in the real estate world, The Real Estate Philosopher.  You can follow me on Twitter @BStachenfeld.