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How to Create Value as a Law Firm Associate
August 31, 2017 POSTED IN: Business Development

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.

Ready to dig deeper and position yourself for success? If you’re new to my blog, take a moment and download my free Personal Brand Building Workbook that will help you assess your strengths and begin projecting them to the marketplace. If you are a current subscriber to my blog, shoot me an email at and I’ll send you a copy.

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Harrington is led by Jay Harrington, an attorney who is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and worked as an associate for top international law firms, including Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Jay and his team have not only the design and writing chops to make your firm stand out, but the expertise to understand and distill the complicated concepts that professional services providers grapple with.