Practice Management — 17 June 2017
What Should You Look For In An Associate Lawyer?

One issue many smaller firms deal with is figuring out who to hire when their business is expanding.  Sometimes, all you need is another paralegal or legal assistant to make the operation run as smooth as possible.  If most of the work that you need to be done can only be done by a lawyer, however, it might be time to hire an associate lawyer for your firm.  Associates are a good choice because you can pay them a salary without giving them a stake in the firm you worked so hard to create.  On the other hand, associates are typically straight out of law school and might have a distinct lack of experience.  With that being the case, there are certain traits any associate lawyer you bring into the firm should have.

Willingness To Learn

It is hard to break into the field of law without a certain amount of pride.  The work is hard, the coworkers are all trying to do a better job than them, and they need to make as much money as possible to help pay off the mountain of student debt they picked up while getting their degree.  This leads to many lawyers thinking they know everything they need to know once they get their first job because they truly believe they know everything they need to know.  This could not be further from the truth.  There are so many facets of working in the legal field that can only be taught through direct experience.  If you bring a potential associate in for an interview, and they do not display a willingness to learn, it might not be worth bringing them in.

Diverse Legal Experience

There are so many students graduating from law school every year, there is absolutely no reason to settle for an associate with little or no legal experience.  You don’t need someone who has interned for a bunch of huge firms since they were in high school, but it is definitely a good idea to consider candidates with a few different legal experiences on their resume.  If they had one or two internships, wrote for their legal review, and had a solid GPA, they are definitely a candidate worth considering.  It is not necessary that their internship experience was in your field of law, but a diverse background displays a willingness to learn.

Potential For Growth

When looking at an associate, it is important to note that after a certain amount of time with your firm, you will be tasked with a tough decision: do you risk losing them by keeping them at the associate level, or do you cut into your own profits and put them on a partner track?  This is a question that often depends on the attorney you hire: if they seem like an asset that will bring in business commensurate with their salary, it is a smart decision to bring them on as a partner.  If your associate is complacent and doesn’t have the drive to become a partner one day, they may or may not be the right hire depending on your needs going forward.  You need to make this hire while looking forward a number of years: will you want another partner in five or ten years?  If yes, then hire someone you would like to see turn into a partner.  If not, hire whoever you think the best fit is at that time.

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