How Young Lawyers Can Get Ahead and Stay Out of Trouble
Working for a large law firm can be both an exhilarating and exasperating experience for new lawyers. Where do you turn when trying to drum up new work or defuse the inevitable political landmines?
“It’s a long process and a growing process,” says Claudine Millette, an associate with Borden Ladner Gervais in Montreal, who praises the firm’s mentorship program. After being paired with a partner, Millette was introduced to representatives of one of the firm’s biggest clients and advised to keep up regular contact.
But mentorship programs can’t do all the work. “You have to be able to grab the opportunity and run with it,” Millette says. “You have to develop your own personal relationship, so that when the client has a new file, instead of taking it right to the partner, they say: ‘You know what, there’s that young associate. She’s doing good work, and she’s cheaper.’”
Benoit Provost, Millette’s mentor and a partner on Borden Ladner’s management committee, supports mentoring, but he also agrees that it isn’t always enough. So he offers these suggestions for getting good work, dealing with challenges and staying out of harm’s way.
1. Be proactive
Don’t wait for a partner to come to you. Have the confidence to approach a partner, even if she seems busy or her door is closed. “Lawyers are lawyers — once they get involved in their files, they sort of lose sight of the people around them,” Provost explains. “Don’t be shy; speak to people if you have an issue.”
2. Ask questions
Whether you’re stuck on something the lawyer gave you, or you want to know about the path to partnership, ask away. “I would not have asked those questions when I started out,” recalls Provost. “Things are different now — communication is everything.”
3. Be flexible
If things are going poorly with a to the right person or provide in-valuable advice. “There are person-alities involved in a firm,” Provost observes. Some welcome the direct approach and are open to discussion; others, not so much. “Maybe [a different lawyer] can have a chat with the partner instead of you, and that can soften the blow.”
4. Get over it
If none of these tips help with a problem situation, this may be the most important piece of advice: forget about it and move on. Like most people, lawyers have short memories, and nobody’s perfect. “Unless it’s a major gaffe, people forget quickly,” says Provost. Be willing to dust yourself off and keep going.
Adapted from National magazine, May 2004.