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What Makes an Associate a Superstar?

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Here are 10 traits of terrific young attorneys.

There are associates, and then there are superstar associates.

Associates show up on time, do a decent job, and bring value to the firm. Superstar associates show up early, do a great job, and bring not just value but an intangible “extra” to the firm.

“The best associates make partners and others around them feel like everything is taken care of,” writes Harrison Barnes for BCG Attorney Search. “Things go smoothly. They empower those around them by virtue of their presence.”

Average associates can become superstars. All it takes is an open mind, a little practice, and dedication to some key values.

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10 Traits of a Superstar Associate
“Superstar associates do their work efficiently and accurately, and ask for more work,” writes Barnes, a national recruiter of top legal talent. “They instill confidence from other associates as well as partners. The entire firm realizes the superstar associate can be trusted.”

Here are 10 other superstar qualities, according to Barnes:

  1. They are enthusiastic. This quality can’t be faked. To be genuinely enthusiastic, you have to enjoy your practice area and buy into the firm’s mission. “If you are not having fun, you will not do well,” says Barnes. “The very best associates love their work.”
  2. They seek out mentors. “The best associates have mentors on their sides. These mentors generally attach themselves to the associate (as much as the associate is attaching themselves to the mentor) because they are attracted by the associate’s enthusiasm and desire to provide outstanding service.”
  3. They present well. This means looking sharp, keeping a clean, organized office, speaking courteously, staying healthy, and acting professionally at all times.
  4. They are committed to the firm. “If you move every few years, then the next law firm you work for is not likely to believe that you are committed to them. This lack of commitment will make them trust you less, it will make it more difficult to get mentors and your advancement will be that much more difficult as well.”
  5. They protect – and build – their reputation. Top associates know that their professional image can turn on a dime. One careless comment, one typo-ridden memo, or one sloppy performance can undo everything.
  6. They go the extra mile. “If you take the time to dig into a matter so that you can win a negotiation, or complete a transaction to the benefit of your client, this will be respected by the partners you are working for. These partners will love it when you have a better command of the facts and law than the other side (or even them). This will give them confidence assigning you additional work and having you work directly with clients.”
  7. They are always looking for their next assignment. They don’t pop into their managing partner’s office to ask if anything needs to be done (partners hate this, Barnes says). Instead they build on their last assignment by “suggesting additional research, briefings, or finding a connection between that assignment and something that another client could benefit from.”
  8. They look for ways to improve. “Litigators may ask to go to court with partners so they can observe (even if they are not billing). They will ask questions about how things work and throw themselves into whatever they are doing.”
  9. They are always learning. “They may try and become more effective personally by learning to become better team players, feel less stress at work and become better overall people. They will observe the best traits of the partners and try and model their own behavior after them.”
  10. They are honest. Always. Dishonesty is a guaranteed career-killer. Here are some falsehoods that can derail a career, Barnes says: lying about hours worked; lying about completing an assignment; lying about doing work for another partner; lying about being sick; lying about who caused a mistake; lying about needing time off to attend a relative’s funeral.

What superstar qualities would you add to this list?

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