New Year, New Successes: 4 Ways to Help You Become A Successful Associate

By District of Columbia Bar

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Adam Gropper—founder of—discusses four ways to help you become a successful associate. These best practices can be applied to any environment where the competition is tough. 

On managing your workload effectively:

- Resist the urge to turn down work no matter how busy you are.  You want to keep a full plate for hours and also so you have a project to turn to while you are taking a break from writing the perfect memo.

- Ask the partner about his or her timing needs and communicate your current responsibilities and timing.

- Be sincere and let the partner know you want to work with them if you can make it work and meet their timing needs.

- Perhaps confirm with other partners that their timing needs have not changed before turning down the new assignment.

- Make sure you are not leaving work before any partner or coming in after any partner which may mean you are not really at capacity.

On seeking specific feedback:

Perhaps the partner tells you that your writing is not acceptable.  Make sure you get very specific and understand the basis for the comment. For example, if possible, sit with the partner and ask him or her to explain why they are making this and that redline/change to your memo.

On communicating effectively:

Someone asked when it is appropriate to tell the partner that you may need more time (then budgeted) to complete the project. First, take some time to do some digging into the problem. Information is helpful and allows you to point to specifics rather than just substituting your judgment for the partner’s.

After doing some work, you are in a better position to go back to the partner and reasonably say you have done x, y, and z; and that you believe you need to do these three other things given your limited knowledge in this area. And, based on what you think is required to get to the bottom of the issue, you do not believe you will be able to meet the budget.

On being rigorous in your research and writing:

There is a balance between scorching the earth until you are sure you have gotten to the bottom of a legal issue and being efficient. You want to be mindful of timelines, partner pressures, and client fee sensitivity but you also want to produce your best work. In some cases, you may have to do whatever it takes to get the answer and deal with billing separately. For example, if you know nothing about the topic, you may need time to get up to speed and that time generally should not be charged to the client.

Mr. Gropper will be speaking at "Secrets of Successful Associates", Friday, June 5.

About Adam Gropper:  He is the founder of, a website that provides practical advice for current law school students and law firm associates.  Mr. Gropper is also the author of “Making Partner:  The Essential Guide to Negotiating the Law School Path and Beyond.”  Making Partner was recently published by the American Bar Association and provides guidance for maximizing performance while in law school, securing the dream law firm job, excelling as an associate, and moving on the fast track to making partner.  Mr. Gropper regularly participates on panels to discuss these topics at law schools and events organized by various bar associations, and frequently serves as a mentor to law students and law firm associates.

Mr. Gropper is a Legislation Counsel on the staff of the non-partisan Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, assisting Congress in developing and drafting tax legislation and legislative history.  Previously, Mr. Gropper was a tax partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP where he spent ten years handling tax controversy and planning matters.