Navigating the Path to Success: The Vital Skills You Need to Manage Your Legal Career


Stepping into the world of a law firm as a new associate can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. You are eager to learn, but you find yourself reporting to multiple senior figures in the firm, each with their unique expectations. In the September 8th, 2023 Bloomberg News article, “New Law Firm Associates Should Master the Art of Managing Up,” the importance of managing up is highlighted as a crucial skill for new associates.

The Flex Legal team is dedicated to highlighting the importance of these skills as we recognize them as essential competencies for success in the legal profession.

Understanding Managing Up

Managing up is not merely about completing tasks; it’s about comprehending them deeply and sometimes even better than the person assigning them. It involves meeting the expectations of your superiors while also establishing your boundaries. This means occasionally seeking clarification, pushing back on project scope when necessary, and being proactive about your workload.

Your Supervisor Is Your First Client

To excel at managing up, it’s vital to shift your perspective. Consider your supervisor as your client, and adopt a client-service mindset. Understand their immediate objectives and long-term goals, discover their communication preferences, and prioritize their deadlines. Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from experienced associates or support professionals who can offer valuable insights.

Crafting Supervisor Profiles

One practical approach to managing up is the creation of “supervisor profiles.” These profiles serve as quick-reference guides containing information about your superiors’ preferences, quirks, and expectations. These cheat sheets enable you to adapt quickly to different supervisory styles. For instance, knowing that Max prefers phone calls over lengthy emails or that Tay likes binders with single-sided pages can streamline your interactions and make you a more efficient associate.

The Art of Asking Questions

As a new associate, it’s natural to assume that senior lawyers always know best. However, it’s important to remember that they may not always communicate their needs clearly. When faced with ambiguous tasks, don’t hesitate to ask open-ended questions to gain a clear understanding of the project’s core objective. This approach not only saves time but often leads to better outcomes. Collaborative communication is key.

Navigating Overwhelming Assignments

At times, the workload may feel overwhelming. Instead of flatly declining additional tasks, embrace the “yes, and” approach. Express your willingness but clarify your constraints. This demonstrates your commitment to delivering quality work. By engaging in a conversation about deadlines and priorities, you can work together with your supervisor to find a feasible solution that meets everyone’s needs.

In conclusion, mastering the art of managing up is a critical skill for new law firm associates. It enables you to navigate the complex landscape of expectations and responsibilities within a law firm effectively. By understanding your superiors, maintaining open communication, and asking questions, you can not only survive but thrive in this challenging environment. As the article suggests, even as a small fish in a vast pond, with the right skills, you can make a significant impact.