5 Common Mistakes Partners See Associates Making

We asked nearly 100 partners at the country’s largest firms: “What are some of the most common mistakes you see associates making that lead to time and money wasted?” They responded with some revealing insights about what associates do to get in the way of their own success.

So, if you’re an associate who wants to accelerate your promotion to partner, here’s why you should read this post:

  1. Learn the 5 most common mistakes associates are making right now 
  2. Learn how you can get out of your own way and impress—every time
  3. Learn how to take full advantage of partners’ knowledge and expertise

Mistake #1
Lack of clarity on project purpose and failure to ask for clarification and input from the partners.

This complaint was by far the most prevalent from our surveyed partners. They weren’t sure if it was about associates being afraid to speak up, to look dumb, or just careless. Whatever the reason, partners resoundingly lamented associates who rush full steam ahead down the wrong path. 

We think it can be safely assumed that partners want you to succeed, enjoy sharing their wisdom, and appreciate when you check in with them to make sure you’re not off course (wasting time and money).

Quotes from partners:

“Working on a project without completely understanding its purpose, and not seeking additional input from me, resulting in unproductive time.”

“Going down the wrong path too far before checking in regarding their progress on a motion, brief, or research.”

“Not asking senior level associates or junior partners for advice (and doing this in an efficient manner – having all your questions ready – not in a piecemeal fashion)”

Mistake #2:
Lack of thorough research: 74% said substantive legal research is “very important.”

This was the second most common complaint: associates who rely too heavily on pre-existing work—arguments, research, and forms—while neglecting their due diligence. Wondering how to get ahead in your firm by developing case-winning arguments? The answer is simple. First, understand your project and goals, and second—don’t skimp out on the research that will support that.

If you want to properly research but need a little relief, Casetext’s legal brief writing tool Compose lists arguments, legal standards, and cases you may want to include in a brief, helping you to build an outline that ensures no key issues or cases are overlooked. 

“Failure to review caselaw and too much cutting and pasting from prior work.”

“They often don’t take time to ensure an existing document is ‘current’ and fully consistent with the fact of the matter at hand.”

“Stopping early in research when thinking they have arrived at the answer.”

Mistake #3
Lack of strategy. 73% of partners surveyed underscored the importance of including all applicable arguments. 

Related to mistake #2, this is about having the confidence to “think like a lawyer.” You’ve done your research, now draw your conclusions, state them clearly, and back them up. Partners expressed a desire for their associates to take initiative and think for themselves. If you made it through law school, you have what it takes to consider your research and craft relevant, persuasive, and well-presented arguments. 

Need help with developing solid arguments? Newer AI-based search technology, like Parallel Search, automates finding supporting precedent for any statement you want to write in your briefs. Compose also suggests arguments and legal standards based on the content of your brief, enabling you to add it with a simple click.

Tips from partners:

“Some associates do not show initiative and do not think and analyze like lawyers. They want the partner to tell them what to say, and then they want to capture that in a document.”

“Failure to think beyond superficial issues and adequately address salient issues.”

“Drafting arguments on the fly – without thinking through their logic or legitimacy.”

Mistake #4
A poor process.

Strategy isn’t just related to arguments, it can also be applied to your process. We saw partner complaints about procrastination, not focusing on desired results, and associates who wrote briefs before all issues are researched and the strategy for arguments is established. Good process comes down to time management, understanding your goals, and sticking to them.

Tips from partners:

“Lack of organization in brief or other written product.”

“Failure to fully develop arguments and legal authority before drafting motions and briefs.”

“Failure to focus and be concise, too much time spent on peripheral issues.”

Mistake #5
Typos and errors: 23% of the partners we surveyed called out typo and error-free work as “very important.”

We’re surprised at how many partners complained that their associates submit unpolished work—even expecting partners to do the final work to edit work to final standards. This practice will certainly get you noticed—but not in the way you want. Wrap up mechanical issues like typos, grammar, proper forms, and references before submitting your work. 

Tips from partners:

“I see associates routinely using partners as high-priced proofreaders.”

“Avoidable errors, typos, poor formatting, non-compliance with court rules regarding briefs.”

“Not proofreading for coherence and clarity of their written submissions.”