An Open Letter To Incoming First-Year Associates

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Biglaw: it may be a sprint at times, but it’s also a marathon.

Dear Class of 2020 Associates,

After three years — actually 25+ years — of hard work, you’re finally beginning your legal career. Some of you will start in a new office, and some of you will be starting remotely. These are weird times, and no one can fully prepare you for the months to come within this new paradigm. But certain themes will hold true no matter what the physical set-up may be.

Fifteen years ago, I was in your shoes, starting out as a first-year associate at Cleary Gottlieb in New York City. Here are 10 of the most important takeaways I can share from my seven-plus years as a Biglaw associate and seven-plus years (and counting) as a legal recruiter:

  1. Pick your practice area intentionally and wisely, thinking ahead about where you see yourself in terms of industry, lifestyle, and geography, five, 10, and 20 years down the road.
  2. Trust that the little stuff counts more than you now know. Be responsive and organized, meet deadlines, and pay attention to detail, appreciating that no job is too menial.
  3. Take extra time — no matter how busy you are or late it is — to understand the bigger picture. Force yourself to answer the underlying “why?”s and “how?”s on every matter you work on.
  4. Request, appreciate, and work with constructive feedback.
  5. Keep up on the latest law firm and industry news, and make an effort to learn your clients’ businesses.
  6. Keep your eyes open and be the ardent guardian of your professional development.
  7. Start developing your own business plan from Day 1.
  8. Be proactive in your career planning. Don’t trust the firm and your supervisors blindly. Recognize that career planning is a continuous and thoughtful process, not a one-and-done crisis management tool.
  9. Develop a relationship with a recruiter you trust so that you understand the legal market and your options at all times.
  10. Develop authentic relationships — with partners, peer lawyers, administrative staff and janitorial staff, and in your networking efforts. Treat everyone with equal respect and positivity.

For additional tips for getting your legal career off to the best possible start, see my articles on 25 Things All Young Lawyers Should Know In Order To Not Screw Up Their Legal Careers and Lessons For Success From A Former Biglaw Associate.

I urge you to reach out to me — not just when you’re planning an imminent move, but as you’re navigating your first year, deciding on a practice area, grappling with any other professional development questions, or seeking to just open a dialogue.

I wish you all the very best of luck in your new careers. Work hard, all the while learning and taking care of yourselves, mentally and physically. It may be a sprint at times, but it’s also a marathon.

Yours sincerely,

Abby Gordon