Advice on Preparing for Law Firm Associate Life from Current Lawyers

Published: Aug 25, 2020

Topics: Education       Grad School       Law       

When you are in the trenches of law school, it can be hard to understand how the endless hours of reading, book-briefing, and outlining will apply to real legal practice. But there are many steps you can take as a law student to set yourself up for success as a practicing lawyer—including adopting certain habits and mindsets and seeking out specific learning experiences.

In Vault’s most recent Annual Associate Survey, we asked law firm associates how they felt law school prepared them for practice and what advice they have for law students in preparing for life as an associate. Read on for some of their advice.

  • “Be prepared to take criticism and make it a learning experience.”
  • “... I would advise law students to take more business school classes, particularly accounting and financial markets classes.”
  • “The best preparation is actual practice. I highly recommend seeking out externships, clinical experiences, and interesting summer internships that are substantively challenging and will require working fast and skillfully.”
  • “Take an active role in law review. It will prepare you for the long hours, the camaraderie and team aspects of a firm, and the work that goes in. Also, try to be a research assistant for a professor if that is available. That helped me with developing and fostering mentor relationships.”
  • “I think law school prepared me for the hard realization that I do not know everything, and I would have a lot to learn. I think the best thing I would tell law students would be along those same lines: The job of an associate is to do their best, then to be told by their superiors why it's wrong, and then fix it. Leave your ego at the door, and be prepared to work hard to improve.”
  • “... Time-management as an attorney is key, and it is essential that this is worked on during law school.”
  • “Law school is a lot like being a lawyer in terms of developing discipline and learning how to synthesize complex material into a readily accessible, easily digestible format. Grow research, writing, and analytical skills now, as they will pay major dividends in the future. …”
  • “My advice for law students is to seek out opportunities to practice legal writing. I was a big fan of moot court because the brief writing is exactly the kind of thing I do as a litigator.”
  • “Learn about law firm economics and business development.”
  • “... Take what you learn in law school and apply it to your work, but don't get frustrated when you're struggling. Everyone goes through it. It's constantly a learning process."
  • “Learn how to appropriately set boundaries and enforce them. People will respect them if you also do.”
  • “Law school prepared me to work hard under pressure and to know the level of work that was expected of me in order to succeed. It also gave me loads of useful background knowledge so I could pick up on items that consistently show up in practice.”
  • “I think that the most important thing for law students to do is foster good relationships with their professors (it transfers very well to what it’s like when interacting with partners). I also think students should make good connections with their peers.”
  • “Law school will only prepare you if you know what you want to do post law school. Try to get a sense of what practice group you like during the summer, and then focus 3L year on building the skills you need to be a good lawyer in that field.”
  • “Do your research carefully about each firm, and don't just target law firms based on prestige or what everyone around you thinks is success.”