July 25, 2012
As an associate, your goal should not be to bring in work, but to position yourself to get high-quality legal work when you need it, later. Gradually, steadily, over time, build a tight, ~250-person network of people who hire lawyers, influence the hiring decisions, or refer business to them. Few clients will hire an associate for quality work, so spend these years building your resume, reputation, and name recognition among a significant, specific audience. You have time, so use it to your advantage.
Over time, the shortest path to building a sustainable practice is to become an expert in a small industry or sub-subset of a larger industry — clients declare “industry expertise” to be among the traits they value most in their lawyers. Broad industries like real estate, financial services, health care, insurance, and construction are too obvious; select a smaller, more obscure area where you have existing experience, interest, or contacts. The answer might not be obvious now; just look for it, recognize it when it comes along, and be particularly proactive beginning around your fourth year of practice.
Focus on helping people, not looking for work, so you are viewed as a knowledgeable industry insider, not a needy salesperson. Build close relationships and work will come. You’ll see.