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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Now Hiring: 3 Keys for New Attorneys to Find Success in a Difficult Job Market


By Jason E. Fellner, Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney

Over the last several years, the legal industry has changed and the result is weaker demand for associate positions. The cause for this change can be attributed to the Great Recession, baby-boomer partners who won’t or can’t retire, as well as consultants who have replaced much of an associate’s traditional work. The consequence of this changed landscape is that job openings for associate positions are limited and associates with jobs are insecure since there is a bottomless pit of capable and less expensive replacements waiting at the door.

What then does a new lawyer do in this changed landscape? Surely, those who navigate through these changing times, and stick to it, will land on their feet, if not way ahead. The following lessons are worth considering in charting a path to a successful career.

Remember, Everyone is Smart

The first mistake a new attorney can make is to think they are any smarter than the next attorney. All too often, a new attorney is eager to show partners that they are an asset through their intellect with their excellent research, writing or oral advocacy. It’s a mistake to believe that a new attorney is hired for being smart, or for that matter, will be rewarded for showing great intellect. The reason is simple: attorneys are supposed to be and are smart; everyone graduated at or near the top of their undergraduate class.

The critical question an attorney must ask oneself is: what sets you apart from your peers? Is it work ethic, passion for the law, counseling of clients, or something else? The answer to this question is not only fundamental to getting started, it is equally important in developing meaningful professional relationships in and out of the office.

It’s the Quality and Efficiency That Matter

Transitioning from outstanding law student to outstanding associate is a difficult task. To begin with, the ways in which success is evaluated are very different: law students, in general, are graded on the memorization of the substantive law on various legal topics as well as the quality of their writing (all will remember IRAC); whereas, associates are evaluated by their efficiency, time management, work ethic and ability to work with others.

For success in the practice of law, an associate needs to provide quality work product in an efficient amount of time.

It’s Never Too Early to Build Professional Relationships
Most law students make the mistake of relying on their law school career planning department to introduce them to prospective employers. Likewise, new attorneys mirror the mistakes of their past by relying on their partners to introduce them to attorneys, clients, consultants or experts outside the office. It’s never too early to build a professional network. Law students and new attorneys should join their local bar association as a start, putting them in contact with hundreds of professionals, potential clients and referrals. It’s never too early to begin mining personal relationships, which may turn into the perfect job opportunity, referral or client.


Jason E. Fellner is a Director at Murphy Pearson Bradley & Feeney. He represents individual and corporate clients throughout California.

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