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In any economic climate, associates who prove indispensable to their law firms will likely get ahead in their careers. When the economy goes bad though, as it always does at some point, being indispensable is an attorney’s best asset in the fight for professional survival. The best and most recent examples of this are in the current COVID-19-induced economic downturn and the Great Recession of 2008—during which, firms had to decide how many lawyers they could keep on their payrolls.
The good news for associates? There are many ways to demonstrate value that go beyond the expected qualities of intelligence, attention to detail and responsiveness. Four of the most effective are being proactive, cultivating relationships, demonstrating leadership and sharing knowledge.
1. Be Proactive
One way to make yourself an indispensable associate at your law firm is to regularly volunteer to take on new projects and provide high-quality work. That establishes you as someone who can be trusted when tasked with any matter. Do your homework on your own time, anticipate the needs of partners and other colleagues, and be ready to propose new ideas or approaches to solve problems. Always be willing to develop new skills or expertise. Even if it isn’t a formal part of your job, offer to help colleagues learn the best ways to use new technology to streamline routine tasks, freeing up time and energy for higher-level billable work.
2. Cultivate Relationships
Cultivating and maintaining personal relationships is crucial to any lawyer’s career development. Beyond just working alongside partners, staff and clients, it’s also vital to build genuine relationships with them. While associates should take credit for their own accomplishments, they should be equally quick to recognize the work of fellow lawyers and staff. Being a colleague whom people at all levels of a firm can consult and trust will lead to additional client assignments and involvement in important firm matters.
As remote work becomes increasingly common, opportunities for daily face-to-face interaction are becoming scarcer. Still, there are many ways to meaningfully connect outside the typical in-person office setting. Make the time to reach out to colleagues and stay connected. Through an array of technology platforms, we can spark conversations by sharing news articles, book recommendations and music playlists. Of course, picking up the phone to chat one-on-one is a more traditional (but likely more reliable) way to build strong relationships within the firm. The same goes for friends and networks outside the firm, which sometimes take a back seat to more immediate work in a busy associate’s life.
3. Demonstrate Leadership
Volunteering to mentor younger associates or organize firm events is a good way to get to know lawyers at different career levels. It’s also an opportunity to help shape the firm’s direction. Outside the firm, seeking leadership roles in bar associations or other organizations enhances visibility, builds relationships with people who share common goals and potentially opens pathways to new firm business. When people in the business and legal communities see you as the face of your firm (or at least a face of the firm), you become more indispensable.
Similarly, in addition to giving your legal practice a greater sense of purpose, taking on pro bono cases provides another way to become an ambassador for your firm to other organizations.
4. Share Knowledge
Identify information that is valuable to colleagues and the firm’s clients (for example, legislative developments or case law affecting a certain area of interest) and share your knowledge. Write articles, client alerts and blog posts, and use that content to connect with clients and prospects. That provides them ideas for further discussion that could translate into new work. Maintain a strong LinkedIn® presence and take the time to regularly share information and engage with your connections.
Associates will find that doing what it takes to be essential to their firms is a continuous process. Those who do it well, however, will position themselves to survive any economic cycle—and even thrive as a future leader of their firms.