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How to be a Spectacular Lateral

Vivia Chen

July 11, 2011

Secret Today, we're answering a reader's query. This one is from a third-year associate in Australia:

I'm starting a new job at one of the big firms. I'm just wondering what lateral lawyers can do that will help them integrate into their new firm. I imagine there are a few key things--like seeking work out enthusiastically, turning around quality work, etc. But are there any "rules" for success? Conversely, do you know terrible stories with strategies that don't work?

For the answer, let's turn to our panel of experts--Vinson & Elkins hiring partner Tom Leatherbury (click here about how V&E hires), career coach Elizabeth "Betsy" Munnell, and recruiter Dan Binstock.

VE's Leatherbury offers these suggestions to the lateral:

1.  Work for as many different partners as you can.

2. Hit your first few assignments out of the park. Anticipate and ask what more you can do on the matter.

3. Stay later than the senior lawyers.

4. Never speak ill of your former firm. By the same token, don't say: "At my former firm, we did it this way."

5. Be a good firm citizen: Volunteer to do recruiting or join an associates committee.

Career coach Betsy Munnell advises:

1. Make friends with everyone--lawyers, staff, and support people. "Sort out who you can trust, who can teach you, and who you must not cross."

2. Target who might be a mentor. Do not wait to be assigned or for a partner to take you under her wing.

3. Be confident, upbeat, and responsive--but never cocky. Avoid showing anxiety or lack of confidence to anyone. Don't share secrets too early.

4. Be solicitous and cautious about your work. You don't want a reputation as someone who blows off assignments, and you certainly don't want to be known as the one who "screwed up the first deal I gave him."

5. Know the rules and politics behind work assignments. Clarify whether you will be assigned work or if you have to seek it out--then find out how it really works. Find out which partners will never forgive an associate for turning down an assignment--and the ones who expect associates to "fight" for the privilege of working for them.

Finally, recruiter Binstock offers this simple advice:

Learn from those who have already succeeded in the practice group. You likely already know who the “superstars” are, and if you don’t, it will become evident within the first week. Offer to take one of these associates to lunch and simply say, “I want to make sure I do the best job integrating into this group, and you are somebody who has obviously done a very good job and is respected."

Binstock says you shouldn't be shy about asking what a new associate "needs to do particularly well in order to succeed." Afraid that the star associate won't be responsive? Don't be, says Binstock: "The most successful associates are often also those who are very generous with freely offering their wisdom and helping a new team member avoid--or at least minimize--the same missteps they made."


Related post: Interview Tips for Laterals.

 Do you have a career question you'd like answered? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at [email protected]

Photo: Yuri Arcurs – Fotolia.com


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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