How Associates Can Develop Their Star Quality

January 7, 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.

Although solid billings are always a plus, they’re never the single defining aspect of successful Associates.

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.  Your research will position you at the forefront of Canadian legal knowledge.  Partners 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 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.

Find a Mentor – Outside the Firm

Identifying an external mentor brings important benefits.  They 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.

Never Eat Alone

Most firms require associates to log some business development hours so this is the easiest way to meet that requirement, grow your network and maybe get a free lunch.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner – breaking bread with someone else is time well invested to building an important relationship.  Whether a co-worker, former class mate or prospective client sharing a meal is one of the easiest ways to reconnect and build your network.

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 of terminations, surgery or bereavement.  Communicating during life milestones demonstrates that you care.  Avoid hiding behind your laptop and email – make it personal and meaningful.

Keep a pack of blank notecards handy and engage your assistant to help.

Build Visibility Inside Your Firm

Just as critical to building your professional profile externally, build your reputation among the partners 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 internal Committees or volunteer for a special project.

As your practice matures incorporating these simple tips, you’ll find yourself in a better position to attract and retain clients.  Having started early, 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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