Shook, Hardy & Bacon Partner Sean Wajert offers advice to young associates in an October 20 Law360 article, “6 Traps to Avoid During Your First Few Years of Law.”
While law students often graduate law school with joy and confidence, many are unaware of the potential pitfalls and mistakes young associates commonly make that could lead to career disasters. In advising young lawyers to succeed in their first few years of practice without making costly mistakes, Wajert notes the importance of young attorneys asking for guidance. “With busy partners, associates may not always get the feedback they deserve,” Wajert says, “but they typically will get the feedback they ask for.”
Wajert further emphasizes that being proactive about receiving feedback will also leave a good impression on others and that “most partners will treat the request for feedback as showing the associate wants to learn and improve.” Wajert adds, “Young associates need to learn when and how to speak up at firm, practice group and client meetings.”
Additionally, he cautions young attorneys to not display a bad attitude as it is detrimental to their reputations and growing careers. “An attitude that indicates that the associate already has arrived, has it made, has nothing to learn, will not serve them well,” Wajert says. “Young associates should have a humble self-confidence and be eager and willing to learn.”
Highlighting that associates should not lose sight of the bigger picture, Wajert asserts, “Associates need to keep in mind that the law firm is a business. This is reflected not only in billable-hour targets, but in how the firm staffs matters for clients.” Noting that it is “common for young lawyers to fail to develop good habits,” Wajert advises, “Young attorneys can grow their contact list, be active in legal organizations or associations, secure a rainmaking mentor within their firm, and over time, learn ways to demonstrate they are evolving from doing assignments for the partner into assisting the firm's client with important legal challenges.”
"Associates should do their best to always have an attitude of hunger and enthusiasm for the work, even when given routine assignments," Wajert adds.