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May 04, 2022

How To Tell When Your Junior Associates Are Practice Ready

Becoming an associate is exciting. Do you remember joining your first firm after graduating law school and passing the bar? Chances are, you wanted to join a firm that would challenge you, invest in your professional development, and empower you to make an impact.

Nonetheless, the first year as an associate can be challenging and stressful at times—and not just for the new associates but also for more senior lawyers like yourself. While common practice, letting junior associates loose on their first day often isn’t the best thing for your firm. After all, how can you ensure that a junior associate does good work and hits important deadlines? Below we share some tips on how to tell when your junior associates are practice ready based upon our extensive experience preparing associates for the rigors and responsibilities of the practice of law. 

1.  Are they asking the right questions?

As with any profession, asking questions is crucial to learning how to do one’s job and getting better. But with junior associates, the questions that they ask can reveal a lot about what they know and understand. And when it comes to asking the right questions, timing is important too. 

Although there’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to what makes a question the right question, here are a few things to look for:

  • Are their questions authentic?
  • Do their questions reveal that they have context (i.e., setting, players involved, objectives of both sides involved, etc.)?
  • Is there a sense that they know what kind of answer they’re looking for? For example, are they looking for advice, facts, or an opinion?
  • Do they ask follow-up questions that probe deeper?
  • Do their questions reveal that they’ve exhausted all available resources? 

2. How are they handling the day to day grind?

We all know that life as a lawyer can be stressful and lend itself to burnout. Fortunately, the legal industry is starting to prioritize the importance of attorney wellness. Still, it’s important for junior associates to have the skills and behaviors when it comes to their mental and physical wellness such as high-quality sleep, a healthy diet, and adequate exercise. 

If you notice a junior associate struggling to stay on top of their daily responsibilities, giving them more work without additional resources won’t be setting them up for success. Similarly, if small tasks stir up a significant amount of visible stress and anxiety for a junior associate, reconsider starting them on a larger or more important project.

3.  Are they succeeding in your training program?

Training programs are a crucial part of every new attorney’s journey, and an associate’s progress and success in a training program is one obvious way to tell if they are practice ready. Every firm should invest in their associates’ training and development—not only to sustain business growth and ensure a stellar performance but also to foster engagement, retain top talent, and improve productivity. If an associate struggles to grasp concepts or retain knowledge in a training environment, it’s likely that they’re not practice ready.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Do they react promptly and appropriately to obstacles or errors?
  • Do they follow directions and guidance?
  • Do they seek feedback?
  • Are they incorporating your feedback, training sessions, and/or practical tips into their next workflow or project? 
  • Are they reviewing your redlines and coming back with more questions or clarifications?

4. How are their billable hours realization rates?

Realization rates measure the difference between what a lawyer records as time and what percentage of that time gets paid by the client. For example, if an associate records 10 hours of work but only 4 of those 10 hours are paid by the client, their realization rate is only 40%. Oftentimes with junior associates, realization rates are less than 100% because they take longer than they should to complete a project or the task billed was inconsistent with the client’s billing guidelines. Realization rates are an effective way to evaluate an associate’s performance and in this case, it’s important for junior associates to reach a high realization rate so they can improve the firm’s bottom line. 

5. Do they believe they are practice ready?

Self confidence is a huge factor in evaluating whether a junior associate is practice ready. When a junior associate is confident, it likely means that they understand their skills, strengths, and even opportunities for improvement (confidence isn’t the same as arrogance or short-sightedness). Confidence also likely means that a junior associate will spend less time spinning their wheels, which can drag realization rates down. 

AltaClaro Gets Associates Practice Ready

Firms such as K&L Gates, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Barnes & Thornburg, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and Husch Blackwell turn to AltaClaro for the most effective training programs on the market.

Our online boot camps help lawyers leverage technology and learn practical legal skills in a hybrid format through mock transactions and live feedback sessions with seasoned practitioners. From Fundamentals of M&A Transactions and Corporate Transactions to Capital Markets, our course catalog spans beginner to intermediate level classes. Our state-of-the-art learning technology platform also helps you measure and track training engagement and performance so you can see exactly how your training is driving better results for your employees as well as your ROI.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts and learn how you can get your junior associates practice ready. 

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About the author

Abdi Shayesteh

Founder & CEO of AltaClaro, an experiential learning platform that delivers researched-backed practical skills training solutions for lawyers. Serial entrepreneur, founded and successfully sold two startups prior to age 30. Over 15 years of experience as a corporate and banking attorney in diverse settings.