Master It: Three Crucial Legal Career Tips for New Associates


If you recently joined a law firm as a new associate, the next 12 months are certain to be challenging, rewarding and, at times, incredibly stressful. After all, this first year can set the tone for the remainder of your professional career — and it may determine which lawyer jobs you’re offered down the road.

As a first-year associate, it’s crucial to focus on mastering certain key areas so you’re prepared for expanded roles and promotional opportunities in the future.

Not sure where to begin? Here are three career advice strategies that will help you succeed in your first year and set the stage for a fruitful legal career:

1. Choose the right practice area. This is arguably the most important piece of career advice for first-year associates. Though some firms do not allow first-year associates to choose their area of specialization, and others may offer a rotation through various groups at the firm, certain organizations do give you the option to choose a practice area. If yours does, do not take the decision lightly.

First, think about your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you are comfortable with and talented in public speaking, litigation may be the perfect practice area for you. On the other hand, if the thought of speaking in front of groups of people sends chills down your spine, you may prefer to work in real estate law or intellectual property.

Also, pay close attention to current trends in the legal field and consider choosing a flourishing practice area. If you specialize in a growing area, you’ll probably have more opportunities in your current job and will be more likely to land challenging, satisfying, high-paying legal positions down the road if you choose to move on from your firm.

The hottest practice areas right now, according to Robert Half Legal’s Salary Guide, are litigation, general business and corporate law, compliance, intellectual property, and real estate. According to the guide, surveyed lawyers said the greatest number of job opportunities at their law firm or company in the next two years will be in litigation (38 percent), general business/commercial law (19 percent), healthcare (6 percent), and intellectual property (6 percent).

2. Find a mentor. Like any profession, new legal associates who seek advice and guidance from a trusted mentor can gain an edge on the competition and stand a better chance of thriving in future positions. A good legal mentor can show you the ropes and help you decide which practice area best suits your personality and aspirations. He or she can also offer priceless career advice, such as how to interact with clients, how to present confidently to firm partners and how to sharpen your salary negotiation skills.

3. Master legal technology. If you are highly skilled and comfortable with law office technology and can quickly learn new types of software, you’re more likely to land the best legal assignments -- which could pave the way to valuable promotional opportunities down the road.

When you successfully tap into legal software, apps and online tools, you can work more quickly and productively, which leaves you more time to handle case management and other important tasks. Also, when you take the initiative to research and learn the most cutting-edge legal software, you’ll quickly prove that you’re a go-getter who is willing to go the extra mile for the firm.

With the right guidance in the first year, a new associate can gain an edge on the competition and set the tone for a long and successful legal career.

For more suggestions on how to get your legal career off the ground, see: “Seven Tips to Help New Associates Launch Successful Legal Careers.”