Denver Bar Association
October 2007
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Get Your Advice Here! Helpful Tips for New Associates

Compensation Packages

Be skeptical about any firm whose compensation package involves a modest salary with a participation bonus based on hours billed or, worse yet, monies collected. When I worked for a firm that used a collection-based formula, half of the associates didn’t even earn a bonus.

Partners would cut the associates’ hours before their own, give associates their unbillable work, and pawn off on associates all non-paying or slow paying clients. They may tell you otherwise, but these kinds of firms cannot and do not pay as well as large reputable firms, and they often do not deserve the legal talent that they sometimes are able to recruit.


Listen, listen and then listen some more, especially to non-attorney staff. They have lots of experience; treat them with respect. They know a lot more than

you know and they will want to share it with you. 

Clients From Hell: Learn to Recognize Them

a) They are the ones who have had one, two or more attorneys before they came to you.

b) They are the ones who take up your time with related matters, but which time is unbillable.

c) They are the ones who show a temper.

d) They are the ones who don’t follow your directions. Worse, they are the ones who do exactly what you strongly suggested they not do.

e) They are the ones with whom you never seem to get on the same page.

f) They are the ones who express an unwavering expectation of the outcome of the representation.

Get rid of them! Always get to know your client as much as is reasonable before filing a pleading that establishes you as the Client from Hell’s attorney. Later, when you want to get rid of the client, the court won’t let you, and you’re the attorney for the duration.

Referrals: Two Unbreakable Rules That Everyone Breaks

Want more referrals? Perform only those legal matters for which the clients were referred, and then return them to the referring attorney. Inevitably, the referred clients have another legal problem they want you to handle after the original matter is resolved. Tell them that you may not do anything more than that for which they were referred. Even when they insist, you must refuse. Tell them that any further work by you on their behalf must be/can only be requested by the referring attorney. Almost all lawyers allow themselves to be talked into continuing representation after the original matter is resolved — unethical and stupid. Return those clients and bask in the surprise and appreciation of the referring attorney. More referrals likely will come your way.

Never tell the referring attorney your tale of woe regarding the clients they refer. Express nothing but appreciation for the referral. Don’t describe how the clients became Clients from Hell, or how you couldn’t get paid. Not their problem. You’re supposed to be a grown-up lawyer who can take care of yourself.


Hints for New Associates
by PFK

1. If you work in a law firm that sports a full kitchen and chef, you know where you’ll be eating dinner for the next five years.

2. Albert Einstein said: "Time was created to prevent everything from happening at once." Ridiculous. Time was created to bill. You will watch your life creep by in tenths of an hour.

3. No, you can’t bill every minute you spend in the office. Yes, you can bill traveling to and from your client. This is senseless, but profitable.

4. You will find that, contrary to the tenets of Western Civilization, the Sabbath is a billable day.

5. Every spring you will buy untold numbers of Girl Scout cookies from the daughters of firm members you never have met.

6. Yes, there is a good chance you will have to teach your mentor/boss how to forward an e-mail.

7. Yes, the expensive, inexplicable artwork hanging on the office walls was chosen by a partner’s spouse. You adore the artwork.

8. Act as if you know the answer.

Because you spent a fortune to attend three years at law school, there’s a chance you actually may know the answer. If you believe the previous sentence, you qualify as a first-year associate.

9. Your IT Department knows things about computers that haven’t been thought of yet. Don’t do anything on the computer you’re not supposed to.

10. The reason it is often easier to get along with the attorney representing the opposition than it is the attorneys you work with is that the attorneys you work with are your competition.

11. You will find that many people have an irrational hatred of lawyers. For many others it is rational.

12. You went to law school, you passed the Bar. Congratulations. Deal with it.

Only One Client

The client you presently are with is your only client. Don’t fall into the trap of being willing to impress your client by how busy you are. Instead, impress your client with the fact that you will do nothing else while that client is in your office. The busier you get, the more the desire becomes to pick up the phone and quickly deal with some other pressing problem. Caller ID that you can see is no help here.


Communicate, communicate and communicate. If you have to choose between arrogant competence and concerned communications, choose the latter every time. The Attorney Regulation Counsel does not experience many requests for investigation based on pure incompetence or simple negligent mistake in a particular matter. Clients with whom there is constant, concerned communication are much more inclined to accept the occasional mishap, as opposed to the client with whom there is no explanation or advice and who continually is kept ignorant of the lawyer’s efforts. Even good results with a disrespectful lawyer occasionally prompt client inquiries to the Attorney Regulation Counsel.


Make clients your friends; don’t make friends your clients. Nothing you do as a lawyer is ever enough for your friends; and, certainly, any amount you bill your friends is too much. Represent them for free or get them to another lawyer by whatever means.


Remember all the people who butter your bread. Don’t thank a junior partner for doing an aspect of a project assigned to both of you by a senior partner; it is condescending and out of place.

Distribute Your Talents

Try to work for as many partners as possible who are in a position to review your performance and make salary and responsibility recommendations. Being one partner’s lap dog does not work well when a team is involved in making decisions about your skills. 


Don’t bill time you spent at a meet-and-greet with a client-and-partner event. A day at the game or out for drinks still is considered social time, even when you have to live with a billable hour requirement. The partner will take this time off the bill, after wondering why you thought an evening out should be billed to the client.

Last, but not least: Don’t run with the scissors.

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