A plea to senior associates to step up to the plate….

Ben Tschepikow in action for the Arkansas Razo...

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The job of a senior associate is one of the hardest roles in law firms. They are sort of squeezed in the middle. Being asked to do things by clients, partners and juniors. But often not clear exactly what is being asked of them or how you are doing. It can be a test of stamina and self confidence.

Many senior associates, particularly in the larger firms, make life easier for themselves by just carrying on as if they are still just an associate. It’s as if they’re being pulled downwards. By not obviously being accountable they can duck some of the responsibilities and avoid some of the stress. But by doing this, they also miss out on many of the rewards.

I believe the bigger firms need senior associates to step up to the plate and take more responsibility. If only because it will free up partners to spend more time on adding value through investing in client relationships and business development.

To make this point come alive, I have imagined being a senior partner delivering a speech at the start of a development programme for senior associates. This is what I’d say:

“This isn’t a typical training course. You’ve done all that…..presentation skills, negotiating skills, marketing courses. This programme is different because you’re now in a different place in your careers. 

First of all….congratulations! You might sometimes think there’s still so much to learn, but let’s focus on how far up the mountain you’ve already climbed. Think back to your early days as a lawyer….all those times you had to ask for help when you didn’t know where to start, the feelings of nervousness presenting at your first client meeting etc. 

We sometimes focus too much on what we don’t know rather than what we do. You wouldn’t have got to where you are today if the glass wasn’t at least half full! 

But as senior associates, it’s different now. From now on, it’s not just about being a good technical lawyer. On the matters you are working on, it’s about contributing as a leader in this firm…. 

And, as you sit here now, regardless of whether you know for sure if you want to be a partner or not, this programme is going to be important to you as a practicing lawyer. 

Let’s explore this role as a leader. What do effective leaders do and how does this relate to your role as senior lawyers at this firm:

  • Effective leaders don’t get sucked into the detail – they keep an eye on the final goal
  • To do this, they make an effort to know what the final goal is. Effective leaders know really clearly what each client needs to ensure they achieve competitive advantage and they know what the firm expects of them in terms of our reputation and mitigating risk
  • Effective leaders are keen to be accountable and they have a confident attitude that says “put me down to do that”!
  • They are interested in their clients – not just the transaction. They care about their clients’ businesses and they care about their clients as people.
  • They are interested in their team. They take pleasure in developing the talents of others, in being a good mentor. That way they find that others want to work for them. 

We know that not all our partners make it easy for you to play your full role as a leader. But we’re all grown ups and it’s for you to influence others to ensure you are contributing as a leader in whatever ways you can.

We’re offering you this opportunity to show us what you can do and we’re offering support along the way……”

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