How Associates Can Develop Their Star Quality

April 22, 2021

What makes junior associates stand out amongst their peers? There’s no universal model for ‘rising stars’ in a law firm but given our longstanding history as legal recruiters, we’ve recognized consistent characteristics among emerging leaders in the practice of law.

Solid billings are always a plus; however, they’re never the single defining aspect of successful associates. Below are some key ways for associates to develop their ‘star quality’ at their current firm:

Network, network, network

Build your network sooner rather than later. Most firms require associates to log business development hours, so this is the easiest way to meet that requirement and grow your network. The pandemic may have changed the way we do business; however, the business itself has not changed.

Current circumstances highlight the need to take a more targeted approach. Putting yourself online is key – use online communication platforms, such as actively participating in LinkedIn activities and attending webinars. Share and comment on LinkedIn articles, as well as share your own insights. At webinars, give authentic input and connect with the speaker and/or participants. Be selective over who you’d like to connect with.

Build your professional profile and awareness

As a junior associate, it is never too early to leverage the three ‘P’s of practice – publish, present and participant on panels/webinars. Your research will position you at the forefront of Canadian legal knowledge, and partners already rely on your ability to provide insight to the latest developments in law.

Finding opportunities to present your knowledge in a business or academic environment takes little additional effort and offers the opportunity to differentiate yourself from other lawyers. If your firm has a blog – take 20 minutes every month to write a short posting. Once posted, share in your LinkedIn profile to extend the audience reach.

Build visibility inside your firm

Just as critical to building your professional profile externally, build your reputation among partners at your firm for being accessible, reliable, and for delivering excellent work. Being visible and top of mind will open doors to bigger and better files. Take advantage of natural leadership skills and gain incremental experience by serving on internal committees or volunteering for a special project.

Providing high-quality work and building strong relationships is key. Seek out volunteer opportunities that allow you to be engaged with the firm in a meaningful way, such as organizing a business function that contributes to its bottom line. Get involved with the recruitment committee and equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives.

Communicate at every opportunity

Should a colleague, client or friend receive an award or accomplishes something noteworthy – take a minute to call and offer congratulations. You would be surprised how few people take the time to make this gesture. This also goes for birthdays, promotions and the sometimes less happy incidents such as terminations, surgery, or bereavement. Communicating during life milestones demonstrates that you care. When possible, try to step beyond your laptop and email – make it personal and meaningful. Also, keep a pack of blank notecards handy.

Find a mentor – outside the firm

Identifying an external mentor brings important benefits. Pandemic or not, finding a good mentor should always be at the top of your ‘To-Do’ list. A good mentor can give key information that will help you navigate and progress your career, and build confidence.

In particular, mentors outside your firm can provide independent advice and help navigate potential minefields as they are not entangled in the politics of your organization. Second, as good sounding boards, they can supplement your firm’s collective knowledge, offering alternatives and allow in confidence the opportunity for you to debate or question the generally accepted wisdom of your firm without fear of repercussion.

Your external mentor need not be a lawyer. A more business-minded perspective can often prove valuable bringing new insight or ideas valuable when making decisions.

Having clear strategies for building your practice and network is key for lawyers at all stages of their career, including juniors. Incorporating these simple tips early in your career means you’ll find yourself in a better position to attract and retain clients. Getting started early means your relationship building and networking skills will be visibly superior to many peers in practice.


Dal Bhathal is a Managing Partner at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. To discuss your career, contact Dal at or 416.364.6654/604.643.1708. 


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