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October 10, 2007

What’s different for associates?

A few weeks ago, I gave a speech at a Boston hotel called “Six ways to increase results from your limited marketing time.” Most of the questions from the audience focused on associates.

It reminded me that whenever I give speeches in house or in public, there are often a disproportionate number of associates in the audience, and they are the ones most likely to ask questions.

Many associates are worried about the future of the legal marketplace, and with good reason. They are the ones who will have to adapt the most in the long term, as the business model continues to evolve. And in the short term, when financial pressures arise at firms, associates worry that they will be the first to get squeezed.

There is also a widening gap between the traditional life style in large firms, and the life style that associates want. According to the 2007 Hildebrandt Client Advisory: “Younger lawyers (both partners and associates) today have different interests and expectations than the current generation of law firm leaders. Typically, younger partners are interested in maintaining a more ‘balanced’ lifestyle than they see evidenced in their own firms.” (p. 10) That’s one of the reasons associate turnover now runs at about 20% per year, more than double the rate just a few years ago.

Whether they plan to stay at their current firm or to move on, associates can see that business development is absolutely vital to career success. But they never took a course in law school, and many have no idea where to begin.

At a theoretical level, the principles of business development are the same for associates, partners, and everyone else. But at a practical level, there are enormous differences in the way these principles must be applied, for several reasons:

1) Associates are starting from scratch in building personal networks, and in establishing professional visibility and reputations.
2) Expectations for associate marketing vary widely from firm to firm, and sometimes even within a firm from partner to partner.
3) Junior, mid-level, and senior associates need different goals and tactics.
4) Most importantly, associates typically have less time available for marketing than any other lawyers.

All of these factors lead to the same conclusion: While every lawyer must prioritize marketing activities relentlessly, associates must prioritize the most.

Next week, I will describe exactly how to do this, with an eight step process for associate business development adapted from the new edition of my LegalBizDev Workbook which will be published next month.


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