Law is a tumultuous and every-changing field, and as law associate, you have to prepare carefully for the long road ahead. As your career progresses, you don’t want to lose any opportunities that might lead to a better position, personal growth and greater satisfaction with your job! These questions should help you find your way, whether that’s deciding how best to progress after law school or deciding if your current firm is the best place for you long-term. Use these questions to self-evaluate and find out how to make the most out of your legal career.
Are you a fresh graduate, or a few years out of Law school?
“As a law associate, there are several ‘sweet spots’ in your career that should be taken advantage of,” says April Michel, a law writer at Academicbrits. “There are short windows of time that determine when you are best able to make a move that can advance your career – moving between firms, for example, or progressing in your current firm.”
If you are in the first couple years of your law career, the main objective should be to gain experience. Your billing rate is low, as is your knowledge! You should be taking any and every project given to you, prove your capabilities and work ethic, and (hopefully) start to stand out from the crowd of other first and second year associates.
In years three to five, you’re a ‘mid-level’ associate and your marketability is as its peak. That’s because your billing rate is still low, but you have some experience to boast! At this point, other firms might be trying to convince you to come and work for them. This is the best time for law associates to explore moving on to a second firm.
In years six to nine, you’ll be a senior associate – this is when you start looking towards partnership at your firm. If not, you should have another plan to progress to a government or non-law position. As a senior associate, you most likely will not be moving from one firm to another, because opportunities for promotion are so few. If you change firms at this point, you’ll be competing against other established senior associates. It’s best to seek a promotion at your current firm, where you have a good reputation and years of work to bank on!
From years nine and onwards, you shouldn’t be an associate anymore, and should be in a position of counsel, non-equity partner, non-share partner or equity partner, or so on.
How busy are you?
Are you consistently meeting your billable hour and bonus requirements? If not, then you might have to question your job security. If you are experiencing a slow of work, it could be because your firm is slow, or because everyone is busy apart form you! Neither situation is desirable. If the entire group is slow, you may be facing pay cuts and have to jump ship to another firm. If everyone is busy apart from you, you need to question whether a partner has lost confidence in you, or if they simply don’t like you. You can either try to resolve this diplomatically or find another firm – it’s best to avoid the ‘you’re no longer necessary here’ conversation!
What partnership prospects exist at your firm?
This is particularly relevant for those in their senior associate years (see trajectory above). If you don’t have an exit-strategy to another job, you’ll be looking to become a partner in your firm. You need to assess how likely this really is.
“The Law profession is a lot like a triangle,” says Caitlyn Levine, a law writer at Write My X. “There are many associates, and only a few make it to partnership.”
Think about the track record of promoting associates to partners and think about your colleagues (or competition!) who are also looking for promotion. This will help you assess the real partnership prospects, and the likelihood of you being the one chosen.
How secure is your firm?
Think about how many associates have left and why (i.e. If they were asked to leave or left voluntarily). Think about where they went, and how the firm handled the departure. Thinking thoroughly about the decisions of other associates and your firm shows a lot about the health of your firm. If your firm is overly quick to cut staff, you may need to worry about job security. Understanding when and why other associates leave will help you form your own exit strategy.
What is your future in your current firm like?
Is there anyone in your practice group or firm who you look at and think – ‘I hope to be doing the same kind of work when I reach their level.’ No? Then why are you staying at your current firm? When deciding what firm is good for you long-term, you need to find senior associates and partners whose work you want to emulate.