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  1. 1. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backThe top of anything exerts a powerful tug onthe human imagination. Take Mount Everest.Why else would flocks of mountaineers,Sherpas, and bored, middle-aged Ameri-can millionaires risk their lives every yearto scale the thing? Because they dream ofstanding on top. The same holds true for lawfirms. At one point or another, every attorneyworth his Montblanc pen pictures himself inthe managing partner’s office. Sociologistshave studied this phenomenon. We’re suretheir findings are fascinating. (Whatever.)What we offer here is something much morepractical: a step-by-step guide to law firmsuccess. Will this information guarantee yoursafe passage to the summit? Of course not.As on Everest, freak storms, bottlenecks atcritical junctures, and the sheer endurancerequired to complete the journey can stymieeven the strongest climber. That said, thetips our experts offer are time-tested toolsfor advancement. Learn them, live by them.See you on top.FIRST-YEAR ASSOCIATEBe nice“Success at a law firm is about humanrelationships,” says Peter Sloan, a careerdevelopment partner at Kansas City’s Black-well Sanders. Every time you meet someonenew—a partner, another first-year, your sec-retary—smile. Introduce yourself. Take thetime to ask the person a bit about herself. Bethe kind of person people like to work with,says Sloan. “You’ll lay the groundwork for therelationships you’ll need to get ahead.”Drop the attitudeYou were a superstar in law school. Neat.Now forget about that: You’re back at the bot-tom of the totem pole. There’s nothing wrongwith being confident, “but stow the attitude,”says Sloan. “You got the job for the same rea-son that everybody else did. Everyone hereis hardworking and smart.” The best way toconvey a good attitude: Take on assignmentseagerly and complete each one as if it’s themost important piece of work in the world.Work, work, workThe New Economy was supposed to ridthe world of old-fashioned concepts likehard work. Look what happened to the NewEconomy. The fact is, law firms have alwaysvalued, and will always value, sheer unadul-terated toil. Be the first one in the office andthe last one to leave—or something close toit. And when you’re in the office, be acces-sible, says Lily Fu Swenson, a senior associ-ate in the Washington, D.C., office of Mayer,Brown, Rowe & Maw. “If you’re a meticulouse-mail and voice-mail checker, and youreturn messages promptly, it enhances theperception that you’re serious.”Obey thy partnerLike it or not, being a rookie associate is a lotlike being in the army: You take orders fromsuperiors, and your success is measured byhow well you execute them. Listen to whata partner asks you to do, then do it. Whenyou join a firm, “you’re not working soloanymore,” says James Sandman, managingpartner at D.C.’s Arnold & Porter. “You’repart of a team.” Understand your role—andexecute it.Think “client-ready”A common mistake among first-years is toturn in work that’s “good enough” becausea partner will “just tell you to change itanyway.” Bad idea, says Gregg LoCascio, apartner in the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis.Instead, LoCascio says, adopt this standard:Could a partner hand this work to the clientas is? At the very least, your research shouldbe thorough, your logic precise, your writingclear and concise, and your documents 100percent error-free. “Just because its initialaudience is another person at the firm,” saysLoCascio, “doesn’t mean the same standardsdon’t apply.”CommunicateNaturally, it’s best if you can tackle every as-signment with as little disruption to a partneras possible. “But don’t be afraid to speak upand ask questions,” says Kathryn Kling, asenior associate in the D.C. office of Atlanta-based Alston & Bird. “Don’t sweep a problemunder the rug; it will only resurface as abigger problem.” If you do make a mistake,own up to it quickly. Nobody’s perfect, andthere’s a considerable tolerance for errors inan associate’s early years, says Kling. “Yoursupervisors will appreciate your honesty,they’ll trust you more, and they’ll be morelikely to give you work again.” The same goesfor deadlines. If you have to miss one, tell apartner right away. “Think ahead, and let meA Step-by-Step Guide to Law Firm Success: Rise Up[Dimitra Kessenides]From first-year associate to managing partner, a level-by-level guide to law firm success.
  2. 2. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2 continuedknow,” says Hal Shapiro, a partner with D.C.’sMiller & Chevalier. “Otherwise, you’re notgiving me a chance to make adjustments—andthen I’m stuck.” A better plan: Don’t missdeadlines.Pace yourselfA lot of first-years put tremendous pres-sure on themselves, says Swenson. Theywant to take on every assignment, beat everydeadline, impress every partner ... But that’s arecipe for burnout, she says. Her recommen-dation? Push yourself, but don’t drive yourselfnuts. “At least meet your minimum billables,maybe even exceed them, but focus mainly ondoing great work. When you’re considered forpartner, no one will remember exactly whatyour hours were in years one to three. Whatwill stick is the quality of work you did andhow you handled it.”MID-LEVEL ASSOCIATEKnow everythingNow that you’ve got your feet on the ground,says Tara Gregus, director of professionaldevelopment at Chicago’s Vedder, Price,Kaufman & Kammholz, get up to speed oneverything you can, from major businessdecisions to key personnel moves to the firm’shigh-profile cases. Also meet as many peopleas you can, from the managing partner to thejunior mailroom assistant. All in all, learn asmuch as possible about how things get done,who does what, and where you fit in, saysGregus. “Knowing how to navigate the bureau-cracy of a large firm is invaluable because itcan save you time—and time is key.”Find your nicheSpecialization is critical to success in Big Law.Read the journals that cover your practicearea. Join relevant professional organizations.Attend pertinent conventions, seminars, andlectures. Start to develop a niche within yourniche (if you’re an intellectual property litiga-tor, consider something like Internet liabilitycounseling, for example). “This will help youzero in on what your strengths and preferenc-es are,” says Mayer, Brown’s Swenson. “You’llbe more knowledgeable, and your work willbe more satisfying.” You’ll also enhance yourvalue to the firm. Once you develop an area ofexpertise, says Swenson, partners will beginto seek you out when they have work in thatarea. And you want partners to seek you out.Take initiativeSay you’ve done all the research on a clientquestion, and you’ve become relatively expertabout the matter at hand. Ask your partner ifyou can make the call to the client to deliverthe answer. The same logic applies to deposi-tions. Watched 20? Ask to take the 21st. “Anassociate is going to rise higher, get moreresponsibility, and do more faster if she’s al-ways got her eye on higher-level skills,” saysArnold & Porter’s Sandman.Seek a mentorIt’s not enough to push yourself up the lawfirm ladder. You need someone to help pullyou up. “You can raise sensitive issues with amentor, seek her help on a specific project, orask her about how to avoid common pitfalls,”says Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partnerNeel Chatterjee.If a mentor isn’t assigned to you, identify alawyer whose career you want to emulate,then tell her youÕre interested in her workand that you’d like to work for her. Offer tovolunteer if necessary. Even if a mentor isformally assigned by the firm, “that shouldbe a starting point, not an ending point,” saysChatterjee. “Ultimately, you want to gravitateto people you admire and trust—people whosee the world the same way you do.”Offer solutions“Nobody wants to be presented with open-ended problems,” says Swenson. If you hit asnag on an assignment, don’t immediatelyrun to the partner and say, “I have a problem.What should I do?” Think it through, dis-cuss it with another lawyer on the case, anddevise some possible solutions. Then go tothe partner and say, “I came up against thisproblem, and here are some options for howwe can handle it.” Bonus: Solve problemsthat go beyond the assignment. Say you’vebeen asked to research a mergers question,but you realize there are tax matters involvedtoo. Say: “Besides the issues we’ve discussed,my research suggests we may also come upagainst X. Would you like me to send you amemo on that?”Go pro bonoTaking on a pro bono case is its own reward:You’ll be helping others who probably couldn’totherwise afford your help. But lawyering forfree also has a careerist payoff: “It’s a greatway to have your own clients and to interactwith attorneys in the firm with whom youmight not normally interact,” says Daniel Gry-czman, an associate in the Los Angeles officeof Manatt, Phelps & Phillips. Better still, saysGryczman, it shows you can manage a projecton your own.Get involvedVolunteer to help with recruiting. Offer tomake a presentation to the summer associateclass. Join the holiday party planning com-mittee. “From the day you walk in, treat theplace as if you’re an owner,” says Chatterjee.“Getting involved will cement your commit-ment to the firm and the firm’s commitment toyou. That feeling of reciprocal commitment iscritical to your long-term success.”SENIOR ASSOCIATEUp your profile
  3. 3. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 3 continued on backBy now, you have a fair amount of expertise inyour practice area. Look for opportunities todemonstrate this to partners, says DeborahBroyles, a labor partner in the San Franciscooffice of Thelen Reid & Priest. Send a memospelling out, say, what you’ve learned aboutthe new compliance issues that have arisenin the wake of the Enron matter and propos-ing ways to apply your newfound knowledgeto existing cases. Show off what you knowoutside the firm, too, Broyles says. Writejournal articles or op-ed pieces in the popularor trade press. Speak at legal conventionsor at gatherings of relevant business people.The goal: When people hear your name, theyshould think “labor and employment guru.”Court the clientGo the extra mile for the client at every turn.Give them what they’ve asked for, give themmore, and then ask if they’d like more still.You want to be the person who does such con-sistently outstanding work that the client feelscompelled to mention it to a partner, saysBroyles. You don’t have to become best friendswith the CEO, but get to know the staff attor-neys or other key players at your level. Invitethem to lunch. Take them to a ball game. Withany luck, they’ll speak favorably about you totheir boss. Who knows? One day, they may bethe boss.Court new clientsAs a senior associate, you won’t be expectedto make it rain, “but it pays to demonstratethat you have the drive, the skills, and theinterest in doing this early on,” says Vedder’sTara Gregus. Volunteer to do research about apotential client, or ask a partner if you can sitin on a meeting where lawyers are develop-ing pitches. Also, think: Do you know anyonewho’s an in-house attorney somewhere—afriend from law school, a college roommate,a neighbor from your hometown—whosecompany might benefit from your firm’sservices? If so, don’t be shy. Ask him if he’d beinterested in talking with your firm. If the firmstructure allows it, go ahead and work withthe person yourself. If his needs fall outside ofyour area, put him in touch with an appropri-ate colleague. Either way, remain a pointperson on the project if you can.Take chargeNow that you’re leading projects, you’ll haveto start making decisions about strategy,staffing, deadlines, and more. “Most seniorassociates can handle their own problems andcome up with their own solutions just fine,”says Anne Castle, head of the managementcommittee at Denver’s Holland & Hart. Whatthey’re not used to, she says, is managingothers. Make it a point to focus on the peoplewho report to you, says Castle. Make time inyour schedule to chat with them. Ask themhow they’re doing. Tell them what you think oftheir work. “As a partner, much of what you’lldo is manage,” says Castle. Start to hone theskills now.Act like a partnerAt some point, stop thinking of yourself as asenior associate and start thinking of yourselfas a junior partner. “You want to becomeknown as a person who can take problemsoff a partner’s desk and solve them so thatshe doesn’t have to,” says Castle. Try thiscomplex approach: “What can I take off yourdesk?” Then do the job as well as—or betterthan—the partner would have done it herself.Another way to assure you’ll make partner,says Castle: Make it a “historic inevitabil-ity. You just act like a partner, so it’s like, ‘Ofcourse.’ “Shore up weaknessesMaking partner is a Darwinian struggle, andonly the strong survive. “One problem manyassociates have is that they don’t take respon-sibility for their own career development,”says Arnold & Porter’s James Sandman. Onesolution: Take a good, hard look at yourself,and identify any vulnerabilities now. Youhaven’t worked on enough high-profile cases?Get on one—fast. Your performance reviewshave pointed to weak managerial skills? Tella partner you’d like to volunteer for trainingin that area. “The associates who performbest are ones who take responsibility anddon’t simply implement what they’re asked byothers to do,” says Sandman. The end result,he says, is an associate who’s a better lawyer,and one who’s demonstrated a commitment toclients and the firm.PARTNERCareOkay, you’re officially an owner. What doesthat mean? It means “you now have to careabout absolutely everything,” says Blackwell’sPeter Sloan. “You have to care about others,about the client, about the reputation of thefirm, about business development—and aboutanything else central to the firm’s success.Take a team-oriented view of your responsi-bilities. At every turn, ask yourself: What can Ido in this situation to improve the fortunes ofthe firm? On all projects, demand excellenceof yourself and others. “That,” says Sloan, “isthe mind-set of an owner.”Be a business partnerYour job is no longer just to handle individuallegal problems. Your job is to be a full partnerin your client’s business, says Pinney Allen,chair of the partners’ committee at Alston &Bird. Get to know the client’s business fromevery perspective. What are the company’sstrategic goals? How does it plan to achievethose ends? What legal work might it needalong the way?Be proactive. Identify business opportunitiesfor the client and then help the client exploitthem. In the process, draw on all of the firm’sresources. Think the client might benefit
  4. 4. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 4 continuedfrom a merger? Introduce the key contactsto someone in your M&A group. “The idea,”says Allen, “is to develop relationships for thebenefit of the whole firm.”Make it rainAll of those things we just mentioned? Usethem to generate business for the firm (mostnew work comes from existing clients). All thepositive client relationships in the world don’tmean much unless, at some point, you trans-late those relationships into billings. It doesn’thurt, of course, to bring in new clients as well.However you manage to do it, “build a book ofbusiness,” says Orrick’s Neel Chatterjee. “It’sone of the most important things you can do.”Play smart politicsLike it or not, there are politics in any orga-nization, and law firms are no exception. Toget ahead, you’ll need allies—powerful ones.This doesn’t mean you should kiss up to themanaging partner (besides being icky, brown-nosing doesn’t work).“It means you should recognize that anyonein the firm can be important to your career,”says Allen. Always bring your A-game to everyproject you work on—whether you’re workingon the firm’s biggest case or its smallest. Beprofessional and courteous to everyone youwork with. Avoid the temptation to get aheadby cutting corners or stabbing others in theback (such behavior will only come back tohaunt you). In other words, work hard, play bythe rules, and be a mensch. That’s how youbuild lasting relationships, says Allen. “Andthat’s how you gain personal and professionalsupport.”LeadSure, you’ve taken a few recruits to lunch andyou’ve joined the firm’s softball team. Nowup the ante and start developing a profile asa true firm leader, says Daniel Schlessinger,managing partner of Chicago’s Lord, Bissell& Brook. Chair a high-profile committee suchas the legal personnel committee. Spearheada research project (say, “Changes in FederalAccounting Regulations”) that could help mul-tiple lawyers at the firm. Lead a task force oncompensation policies or other firm manage-ment issues. The key is to demonstrate thatyou can effectively lead a major project thataffects large numbers of people. Says Sch-lessinger, “That’s how you earn a reputationas a leader.”Power networkYou’re a big-time corporate executive now.Seek exposure and contacts commensuratewith that position, says Joseph Altonji, a legalmanagement consultant to major law firmsfor the Chicago office of Hildebrandt Interna-tional. Join philanthropic groups, communityorganizations, or cultural foundations. Writebooks that address legal or social issues. Ifyou can swing it, appear on television as acommentator on Supreme Court decisions orhigh-profile trials. Taking such steps will upyour status, in and out of the firm. “There’salso a reflective glow for the firm from thesekinds of things,” says Altonji. “The image thata partner can project is that this is a placewhere quality people want to be.” You’ll alsomeet other high-level executives—contactsthat can only help your career.PRACTICE-GROUP HEADMultitaskAs a partner, you had to be deeply involved ina relatively narrow set of problems. That willcontinue, but as a group head, you’ll also haveto juggle dozens of other matters. “The re-sponsibilities are additive,” says Warren Gor-rell, chairman of Washington, D.C.’s Hogan &Hartson. In addition to handling your existingclients, for example, you’ll meet regularly withthe managing partner and the executive com-mittee. To balance your priorities effectively,you have to broaden your focus, says Gorrell.Schedule time regularly for everyone whoneeds your attention. Listen and communi-cate—but then make a decision. With so manypeople reporting to you, says Gorrell, you haveto be decisive, or work will bog down.Delegate wiselyIn order to handle your new responsibilities,you must hand off more of the day-to-daywork on client matters. “You’re the general,and you’re deploying troops and resources,”says Blackwell’s Peter Sloan. But there’s aright way and a wrong way to delegate. Re-member that the client still demands A-pluswork, and he’s apt to be wary of change. Thinkcarefully about choosing the right personfor each job: Do her skills match the client’sneeds? Will their personalities mesh? Makesure the client has confidence in the personyou’ve chosen: Share some of her accomplish-ments as evidence of her ability. Personallyattend a few “handoff” meetings to ease thetransition. Finally, says Sloan, let the clientknow that you’re still available—anytime—ifproblems come up.Grow your groupThink building a practice was difficult? Nowyou’ve got to grow a whole group. Step one isto assess the group’s business situation, saysGorrell. What are the major growth opportu-nities in your practice areas? What are yourcompetitor’s positions? Who are your starattorneys? Who’s not cutting it? “You have tobe very straightforward in understanding thestrengths and the weaknesses of individuallawyers in the group, as well as in the cli-ent base you have and the market for yourpractice group,” says Gorrell. Step two is todevelop a strategy. What growth opportuni-ties is your group best positioned to exploit,and how should you exploit them? Should youfocus on growth from within, or should youlook to lure a star partner and his group fromanother firm? Whatever you do, focus on a
  5. 5. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 5 continued on backlong-range plan. “It’s easier to have greaterconfidence in what’s happening short range,”says Gorrell, “but ideally you have to look at athree-to-five-year range.”Manage by consensusAs a group head, you might be tempted tosay, “I’m the boss, I decide.” But remember,you’re part of a collective group of profession-als who are all equal to each other—that’swhat a partnership is. A dictatorial approach,says Holland’s Anne Castle, will only alienatepeople, possibly damage your career, and pre-vent you from accomplishing your goals. Onany major decision, says Castle, take the timeto get buy-in from the other partners in yourgroup (and if necessary, from the managingpartner and the executive committee)—even ifthat means moving more slowly than you hadhoped to move. Articulate your plan, explainyour rationale, and solicit feedback beforeplowing ahead. The support you build on thefront end, says Castle, will translate into co-operation—and results—on the back end.Develop a followingLike a politician hoping to become president,a practice-group head aiming to becomemanaging partner must build a constituency.You don’t do this overnight. You do this by con-sistently demonstrating positive leadership.Get out among your partners and do just that.Meet with the heads of other practice groupsor important firm committees. Take key law-yers to lunch or dinner. Spell out your vision ofthe firm and how you’d go about implementingthat strategy. Explain the thinking behind yourideas, especially if they involve change. Whatyou’re trying to do, says Hildebrandt’s JosephAltonji, is convince as many people as possiblethat you can lead the firm effectively. Finally,tell people how you see them fitting into yourplan. It never hurts if they know there’s some-thing in the deal for them.MANAGING PARTNERMind your imageCongratulations, you’ve reached the sum-mit. You’re swimming in money, power, andprestige. But along with those rewards comemajor challenges. For one, everything you dowill be scrutinized, says Hogan & Hartson’sGorrell. Lawyers from other firms will watchyou, seeking to determine your business strat-egy. People inside the firm will look to youfor cues on everything from how to grow theirbusiness to how to treat others. They mayeven monitor your mood. If you seem angry orupset, they may infer that there are problemsat the firm. If you appear pleasant and upbeat,they’ll be more likely to assume the firm isdoing well. The bottom line? “You’re the firm’sspokesperson,” says Gorrell. “Be cognizantthat you set an example.”Grow the firmThink growing a group was tough? Now you’vegot to grow the whole damn firm. Essentially,you’ll do the same things you did to expandyour group—assess the legal marketplaceand the firm’s place in it, identify growth op-portunities, and develop a long-term strat-egy—sonly now you’ll be looking at even moremacro things, says Hildebrandt’s Altonji. Issheer size increasingly important? Maybe youshould consider a merger. Is globalization theNext Big Thing? Perhaps you need offices inBrussels and Beijing. Biotech is an explosivegrowth area? You might consider expandingyour IP practice. Says Altonji: “It’s all aboutdefining a market position, then figuring outwhat itÕs going to take to get there.” Just asyou’ve done at other levels, seek input andbuild consensus to garner widespread supportfor your plan.Sell your visionWhen a new leader comes on board, “peoplewant to know in what direction she plans totake the firm and what role they’ll play,” saysAltonji. If you don’t articulate a vision—new orold—people will assume you have none. Afteryou’ve settled on a strategy, make sure it’sclearly understood. Hold meetings throughoutthe firm to talk about your plan. Explain therationale behind it. Let people know what youexpect of them. “A managing partner can’tarticulate his goals often enough,” Altonjisays. “If you don’t tell people what you wantto accomplish, how can you possibly expect toaccomplish it?”Give it to ‘em straightIt would be nice if only good things happenedon your watch, but the truth is, bad things willhappen, too. Cases will be lost. Scandals willerupt. People will have to be let go. No onelikes to deliver bad news, but it’s impera-tive that you, as the top dog, handle stickysituations openly and directly. “It’s criticallyimportant for anyone in a leadership positionto be straightforward and honest,” says Alston& Bird’s Pinney Allen. If you try to deceivepeople, she says, your authority will be un-dermined. But if you tell the truth—especiallywhen it’s a painful truth—you’ll gain lastingtrust and respect.Super-schmoozeIn at least one way, your job as managingpartner is the same as it was when you were afirst-year: Please the client. Only now you’vegot to please dozen of clients—in big ways.Fly out to visit a client “just to see how thingsare going,” says Allen. Offer her your Yankeesplayoff tickets or your opening-night seatsat the Met. Invite her to your firm’s annualblack-tie dinner. Host her and her husbandfor dinner at your home.” For one, you’ll getto hear firsthand what the client thinks of yourfirm. And no matter who a client is, says Allen,“he’s always impressed when the head of thefirm makes time for him.”Choose an heirYou won’t be managing partner forever, and
  6. 6. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 6one of the best things you can do to capoff your tenure is to identify a strongsuccessor, says Altonji. During your term,identify a handful of candidates, and thenbegin to groom them for the job. Assignthem to lead key groups or committees.Introduce them to important clients. Helpthem polish any skills they may still belacking. Share with them your under-standing of what it takes to run the firm.When the time comes for you to leave,there’ll be a well-qualified pool for thepartnership to choose from. By helpingto orchestrate a smooth transition, you’llensure the ongoing success and stabilityof the firm—a classy final act. Let’s seethe next guy top that.