Resolving to get over the ‘just a first-year associate’ mentality

Resolving to get over the ‘just a first-year associate’ mentality
Greetings from Winnipeg and Happy New Year to all. I am excited to have the opportunity to share my experiences as a newly minted lawyer as I transition from an articling student to a practising lawyer. For those of you in the same shoes, I hope you’ll be able to relate to the trials and triumphs I share with you over the next 12 months.

I am writing my first column in early 2015 and, like most people, I have made a number of resolutions to guide me through the next 12 months. The one that will likely be of most interest to readers is my resolution to get over my habit of introducing myself as “just a first-year associate.”

When I considered writing this column, my first thought was, “Why would anyone want to hear about my experiences? I’m just a first-year associate.” Well this, my friends, is precisely why I chose the topic for this first month’s column.  

After earning two university degrees, you would think I would know by now that everything seems easier after you cross that finish line. Just getting to the point of becoming a lawyer was no short sprint. On a good day, the four years prior to my call to the Manitoba Bar felt no less difficult than running a marathon. It takes discipline, devotion, and time.

I know I am not alone when it comes to the struggle to present myself as a confident lawyer despite my limited experience. My firm believes in actively participating in the Winnipeg business community and supports a number of charities as a result. As a young associate, I am expected to attend these networking events and build meaningful relationships. In these situations, we surround ourselves with other junior lawyers, awkwardly holding both our glasses of wine and plates of cheese in one hand so the other is free to shake hands.  

For the first number of networking events I attended after receiving my call, I found myself prefacing my answers with the statement: “Well, I’m just a first-year associate, but…” I could have been responding to any number of questions: What area do you practice in? How often do you appear in court? Where do I find the best place to grab a bite to eat around the courthouse? It didn’t matter. For whatever reason, it seemed important to me that this person knew that I had just recently started my career.

In every marketing seminar I’ve attended, we’ve been told to focus on what value we can personally add to a client’s business or which of their specific problems we can assist in solving. Now, six months into the profession, I’ve realized that there are dozens of ways that my unique, albeit limited, experience as a new lawyer can assist clients, whether a national business or “mom and pop” outfit.

That means taking stock of how far I’ve already come and focusing on what I do have to offer. First, my hourly rate is not only reasonable but downright affordable. For a number of clients, if the work they require to be done is something that I am familiar with, chances are good that I will be able to get it done far less expensively than a senior partner, even if I have to ask for some guidance and take that extra half hour to perform the work.

Second, for many of us who work in medium- to large-sized firms, there are senior associates and partners to assist us in answering our questions in order to fulfill the needs of a client. There are few firms structured in such a way that the other lawyers do not benefit from a young associate’s successes and I am fortunate to work in an environment where those with the knowledge are more than willing to share it. To our clients, this means that hiring a young lawyer does not mean that the advice they receive will be limited to what that lawyer has experienced in his or her short career. We know how to knock on doors and solicit advice from others and shouldn’t feel any shame in doing so.

So if you, like me, are new to this marathon, I hope that you will join me in resolving to stop introducing yourself as just a first-year associate. Instead, let’s celebrate how far we have come and what value we can add at this early stage of our careers.

Kristal Bayes is a first-year associate at Fillmore Riley LLP in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  You can contact her at kbayes@fillmoreriley.com.

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