March 21, 2014
As an associate, you may have no intention to make partner. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to have as a goal to put yourself in the best possible position to have the most opportunities available to you — at your firm, at another firm, in-house, in government, etc. To get yourself in that position, it will be helpful to do the following:
- produce excellent legal work;
- Be mindful of the soft skills discussed in a prior post, such as determining and satisfying partner preferences surrounding work assignments, managing your workload effectively by communicating responsibilities and satisfying time commitments, and seeking specific feedback about how you are doing, take action, and follow up; and
- Secure both a mentor and a sponsor as soon as possible.
Many associates try to go it alone without either a mentor or a sponsor thinking their work will speak for itself. Unfortunately, that is not the case and it is important to have partners in both roles to increase your chances of being successful at a law firm.
Generally, a mentor and a sponsor will be two different people. A mentor can be someone for whom you do a lot of work and one who is clearly technically proficient as a tax, securities, corporate, etc. lawyer. A good mentor would be someone who is a good teacher, who you get along with reasonably well, and who you do a lot of work for. Ask that person if they would be interested in serving in that role for you. He or she can help teach you how to practice law and how to be a substantive lawyer. Mentors can also help provide you feedback and give you a sense of where you are every year so you can plan to the extent possible. Are you on track for a raise and a bonus? Are you on track for advancement toward partnership? Is there something else you should be doing? In addition, mentors can help provide you ideas for creating your brand in the practice area and distinguishing yourself in the areas of writing and speaking. For example, they can co-author articles with you and suggest timely, interesting topics that you can write or speak about. And mentors can help you brainstorm about good choices for sponsors and perhaps provide some background information on the person, such as interests and personality style to help you determine whether that person makes sense for you. Your mentor can also advise you on how to ask the sponsor if he or she would be interested in serving in that role for you.
A sponsor is someone who has your back and is in a position of influence when it comes time to fight for your annual raises, leadership positions for you at the firm, and consideration for partnership (both whether you should be considered and timing). A sponsor should be someone with whom you may have something in common, so called touchpoints (i.e., a female for female associates, someone with a similar background, from the same hometown, someone with whom you share similar interests, hobbies, etc.) that is in a leadership position at the firm. A sponsor can serve as a sounding board for you to make your case annually for why you deserve a raise and a bonus and eventually why you deserve admittance into the partnership.