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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.