This week we present part two of our series on using internal networking to advance your career within your law firm. Last week we discussed networking to make partner; this week’s focus is on how to get better assignments.
As we mentioned last week, in order to succeed and be truly satisfied with your Biglaw career, you will need to do more than to simply be a great attorney. There are thousands of talented and hardworking attorneys out there who leave the world of Biglaw jaded, unhappy, and unfulfilled. Yes, Biglaw may not be the be-all and end-all for everyone, but there are many attorneys who play the Biglaw game, and play it well. By utilizing networking skills and tactics while working at a Biglaw firm, a young associate can increase his or her chances of succeeding AND being satisfied.
So what can you do to get better assignments?
(1) Do your research – If you want to work with a specific client, do additional research and keep tabs on that client. This is also important if you want to work for a practice group with one or two major clients. Check the daily news for stories about the client, whether or not it is directly related to the work your firm is doing for that client.
Another good source: the staff and fellow associates who might be doing work for that client. Don’t expect to get any confidential information from them, but you can try and gauge how the work is as well as what the needs and expectations of the client are. If you come across a noteworthy article about the client and feel comfortable, forward that article to the partner working for that client. This will demonstrate your genuine interest in the client and might provide an opportunity for future work that you can handle. But be careful not to spam the partner, and don’t send links to blogs that don’t provide substantive information on the client. Nothing infuriates partners more than useless information, especially if they think you are not working on something that benefits the firm and are wasting time sending pointless emails.
(2) Follow partners you want to work for without stalking – If there is a practice group or partner you want to work for, approach the situation as you would a potential date. Find out their likes and dislikes, let them know you are interested, and be different from your counterparts at the office. Read any articles authored by the partner, attend a seminar or CLE training session hosted by the partner, stay updated on recent cases or deals the partner has been involved with. Then engage the partner. Like a job interview, you will need talking points and an ability to carry a conversation about those work matters.
Don’t be afraid to ask the partner if he or she needs assistance on a case or a deal, but be sure your schedule allows for it and that you have developed a sufficient rapport with the partner. If the partner barely knows what group you are already in, let alone your name, odds are he or she is not going to trust you with one of his or her assignments.
(3) Be liked – Obviously you want to be liked by the partners, but don’t forget about the support staff and fellow associates in the practice group. While seeking work from a particular partner or practice group, remember that you may be treading on another associate’s turf. If work is hard to come by or if you work in an intense work environment, an associate of the practice group you are interested in may not appreciate some new competition. Be conscious and respectful of such concerns and try to develop a relationship with that associate. You might find out that extra work is available or that an associate is trying to get out of that practice group. Plus, you need friends in that practice group to tell you what a partner is looking for, the preferred format of assignments, and other valuable insights.
(4) Make your intentions known – Don’t expect assignments or a switch to a new practice group to happen automatically. Even if you are well-liked and your firm is willing to accommodate you, the right people at your firm need to know what you want. Be sure to convey your desire to switch practice groups, your desire to work on a particular client’s case, or your interest in a certain assignment. Several associates mistakenly think that their work will speak for itself and they will be rewarded for it. While it is true that firms try to reward its associates for good work, firms cannot give the rewards you want if the right people don’t know what rewards you are looking for.
This may be a touchy subject, especially if you are afraid of offending a partner or senior associate in your current practice group. Additionally, you might be at a firm where there is a power struggle among partners, so you might have to do some politicking as part of your approach. Ask other associates at the firm and see if they were able to switch practice groups or get better assignments, and find out how they did it. In the end, know that there are many factors that are beyond your control, and getting better work assignments or switching practice groups at your current firm may truly be impossible.
For additional career tips, as well as profiles of major law firms, check out the Career Center.