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Characteristics of the Best Associates That Make Them Partner Material

published March 30, 2022

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Some associates are on the right track to make partners in every law firm, and those who are just not. Superstar associates are always excited to get new tasks. Finishing them flawlessly and quickly is the most important thing for them, and once they finalize one assignment, they are eager to get another one and ask for additional work. They know how to deal with senior associates, partners, and clients and pride themselves in being the most reliable law firm employees you can find. They make the firm partners trust them, making them stand out.

At the same time, associates that are not partner material rarely ask for more work. They are always looking for shortcuts and ways to avoid responsibility. The work they turn in is often riddled with mistakes, and they make everyone around them feel like the job is an inconvenience to them.

Which type are you? This article will reveal the ten most important characteristics that make the best attorneys ideal candidates for partnership.

The Best Associates in Law Firms Are Passionate About Their Jobs


Great attorneys are always the ones who are the most excited about their jobs. They show extreme enthusiasm about their assignments, and partners love that. Who would not want to assign tasks to those who are eager to get them?

And it is not only the partners who are impressed by this excitement. Clients notice this as well, and they always choose attorneys who are enthusiastic about helping them with their legal issues over those who do not show such enjoyment in their job.

An important part of being enthusiastic about your job is in a practice area you enjoy, like intellectual property or real estate. Best associates know what interests them and go hard to get where they want to. They also have to like their law firm and the people they work with; otherwise, they cannot fully enjoy working there.

Enthusiasm is the key to success in any profession, not only the legal one. The best people in every profession get to the top level thanks to their enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is also why younger attorneys are often preferred in the recruitment process in law firms. Attorneys can rarely keep their enthusiasm at the same level their whole careers, especially if they are currently in need of finding a new job. However, those on track to becoming partners maintain their enthusiasm for their work and do not shy away from it.

They Provide the Best Possible Service to Partners and Other People in the Law Firm


The best associates try to always provide the best service to their clients, their partners, and other people working at the firm. They treat everyone with respect and work hard to resolve the people's issues to make their collaboration run smooth.

Partners choose junior associates to help them with whatever they need, so the main task of an attorney in the early stages of their career is to understand the partner they are working for completely, help them fulfill their work, and relieve them of any additional stress. They know what the partners need from them and can anticipate tasks before the partners mention anything. They know what they like and dislike, and they make sure that they fulfill all tasks based on that. Fulfilling these tasks to their best abilities prompts the partner to assign more work to them. With more work, they have more opportunities to provide the best service and show that they are irreplaceable for the firm and the partner. This cycle builds trust between the partner and the associate, the associate empowers the partner, and the partner feels extremely good about the associate.

However, partners are not the only people best associates provide the best service. They value everyone working in the firm with them, whether another mid-level associate, legal secretary, or paralegals. Associates have to know how to be leaders if they want to make partners one day. Good leaders empower those around them. They help them, make them feel respected, and make the whole firm stronger with what they do.

A Good Associate Takes Time to Cultivate Relationships With Their Mentors


One of the most important relationships in law firms is between associates and their mentors. Having a partner as a mentor is extremely helpful for any associate.

Associates enthusiastic about their job and work hard get noticed by the senior attorneys and can create close professional relationships with them. Cultivating them over the years is something that will help anyone's career. Attorneys who are not afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help and advice from those more experienced can get them interested and invested in their careers.

These bonds can last for years, and many grow into great professional relationships. In my long career as a legal recruiter, I have met many different attorneys, and some mentors establish firms with their mentees or switch firms together. But the best relationships also have a level of informality because only then can both people in the relationship open up and trust each other.

Attorneys who can cultivate these bonds over years or even decades can benefit from them their whole legal careers. Senior attorneys can protect their mentees, put in a good word for them, and refer opportunities. It is always important for associates who become partners to maintain contact with their mentors.

Best Law Firm Attorneys Look Like They Have Everything Under Control


Great attorneys know that they have to approach everyone they work with as valued clients. They always need to appear like they have everything under control and not show weaknesses. Many different things can demonstrate this.

How an attorney looks is one of them. Lawyers who are the best always look well-groomed and take good care of their things. They are always well dressed, clean, healthy, and act professionally. Their office is always in order, and they stay on top of all of their tasks and assignments.

They also do not let their personal life get in the way of their professional life. They keep their relationships professional with the people in the office. When in the office, they focus on their work and do not get distracted by things not related to what they are working on.

If attorneys arrive late to meetings, have papers scattered everywhere, or wear crumpled clothes, they do not radiate trust or control. Employers and clients need to be able to trust attorneys. If their appearance and acting do not persuade others about their trustworthiness, they will have a very hard time advancing to becoming partners.

Great Attorneys Show a Lot of Commitment


Commitment is one of the key characteristics of a great attorney. Only those who are committed to the practice of law make partners. When senior partners or other senior lawyers in a law firm see that an attorney is not committed enough, they cannot help them advance.

At BCG Attorney Search, we have many lawyers seeking our services who want to switch firms but do so for the wrong reasons. Attorneys who have changed firms every few years know that they will leave at the first sign of trouble, so law firms prefer to hire attorneys who will be committed to them. This makes the firm not trust them, and advancing can be extremely hard without trust.

This does not mean that changing firms is bad; however, it has to be done for the right reasons. Moving to a law firm with a better rank or advancing positions is completely understandable as it generally promotes more commitment. But it raises red flags when an attorney switches firms every few years without any apparent sign of advancement or increased commitment.

Most junior associates and lawyers in any stage of their careers encounter periods during their job when they are stressed or overworked and do not get credit for their hard work. Partners can sometimes push their associates too much, which can cause them to feel upset or resentful. Many associates would start looking for a new legal placement. The good ones show their commitment in these harder times. And firms always notice, appreciate, and reward the commitment.

Great Associates Develop and Maintain Great Reputation


Word travels fast around a law firm, which is why it is necessary to build a good reputation as an associate who wants to make a partner.

The quality of the work develops the reputation an attorney turns in, how quickly and reliably they work, how willing they are to do additional tasks, how well they treat people around them, and how they behave overall. Failing once in any of these things will put an attorney under a microscope, and making more mistakes will certainly stand in their way of advancing.

A very easy way to ruin a reputation (or build a bad one from the start) is to turn in work riddled with mistakes. Inaccuracies, typos, incorrect dates, and other mistakes do not belong on anything an associate hands over to someone above them. Partners notice these things and mention them to other seniors in the firm. This further hurts the reputation of an attorney who, as a result, gets assigned less work, and their chances of partnership decrease.

Great Attorneys Work Extremely Hard and Are Willing To Work a Lot


Great associates on track to partnership work very hard and are almost always available to work. However, working a lot does not necessarily mean billing the most hours. To ensure their partners and clients receive the best service, attorneys should only bill the hours they need to complete their work and due diligence.

Partners do not want their associates to bill hours; they want them to do their best work, get deep into the issue, and help the clients. They need to be confident in the associates' skills to assign more work. That can only be achieved by working hard and proving that an associate has the necessary skills.

Partners and any senior associate assigning work also need to ensure that an attorney is reliable and available to work when required. Clients do not need an attorney's attention from 9-5 only. Work comes in right before holidays, some tasks need to be finished quickly overnight, and some require constant attention every day for months. Partners need to be sure that they can rely on an attorney before giving them more responsibility or recommending them for promotions. Developing a good reputation is essential for any good attorney.

Great Attorneys Are Skilled in Generating Work


As an attorney's seniority level grows, they are expected to find their clients and generate business. This ability to generate business is usually manifested in an associate's ability to find work even when they work under a partner.

Partners do not need associates who put the pressure of always assigning them tasks. A good associate is proactive and sees where any additional work is needed. They are not afraid to come to the partner and suggest these additional tasks. This creates more work for the associate and more billable hours and profit for the partner and the firm.

The Best Attorneys Never Stop Growing


The best attorneys (and the best professionals in any profession) never stop learning. They want to know everything there is to know about their field and spend their free time improving what they can. It is easy to see how passionate and interested they are in law when they research every topic they come across, ask questions when they meet more experienced people, or take opportunities to observe their seniors at work.

Best associates never stop improving not only in their legal skills but also work on their other qualities. They try to improve their time management skills, stress coping strategies, confidence, learn how to deal with people, and improve other areas related to their ability to do their best work.

Great Lawyers Never Lie


Lying or being dishonest can ruin any attorney's legal career. Most lies lawyers say get discovered, and once they do, the attorney usually gets fired from the firm.

The most common lies lawyers say are related to the hours they have worked or billed, whether they have already finished an assignment or are working on something for another partner. Attorneys also sometimes lie about being sick or having some family emergency when they want to take time off. These things can be easily verified, and it is not uncommon for other junior lawyers to notice and highlight such dishonesty.

Lack of trust is often one of the main issues standing in the way of associates getting a partnership offer. Even negative situations, such as making a mistake, can help lawyers build trust and improve their position with senior attorneys. Admitting to making a mistake to a senior associate or partner helps build trust with them and allows the firm to correct the mistake quickly. When the associate chooses to lie about making a mistake or covering it up, they jeopardize their trustworthiness and put the firm and the client in danger.


As a legal recruiter in BCG Attorney Search, I have met many different attorneys on different levels in various law firms. Not many of them were able to make partners in the more prestigious firms because not a lot of them have all the necessary qualities. The characteristics of the greatest associates who can make partners are often demonstrated by law students already in law school and only strengthen as they advance in their careers. However, even attorneys who may not possess all of these qualities will benefit from cultivating any of them.

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