This is a message to young law firm associates:
Your law firm cares about your personal and professional growth. But make no mistake, the law is a business – often a cutthroat one. Your firm has made a big investment in you in terms of salary, benefits, training and overhead. It expects a return on that investment. As a young lawyer, it’s important to understand how your firm perceives your value, and to a great extent it comes down to dollars and cents.
Law firms rely on leverage, which means having lots of associates in place to work and bill. Young associates should understand they are typically less valuable (in terms of dollars and cents) to their firms than their mid-level and senior associate colleagues. It’s a fact of life in today’s economic environment that clients are less willing to (as they see it) subsidize the on-the-job training of young lawyers by paying for unproductive time. This means that as a young lawyer you must be productive and effective – and not just busy – to stand out.
Generate a positive return on the firm’s investment year after year and, all else being equal, you’ll be fine. Fail to make the firm money? That’s when you start hearing things such as “alternate career path” and “lack of long-term career viability” during annual reviews.
But there’s some important nuance baked into this issue that is important to appreciate. Generating a positive financial return on investment is in many ways table stakes for an associate with big career aspirations. You need to make money, yes, but you also need to make life easier for those around you.
Learn how in my latest article for Attorney at Work, available here.
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