Three Career Mistakes Associates are Making but Shouldn’t Be

By Raj M. Nichani

Raj M. Nichani, Esq. is the president of RMN Global Search, a full-service legal search company specializing in the permanent and temporary placement of legal attorneys with law firms and corporate legal departments. Raj and his team are dedicated to placing the highest quality candidates based on their own unique needs. The legal recruiting company was recently named the 13th top legal recruiting company in the nation by LawCrossing. You can reach Raj at (678) 842-5855, or by email at or by visiting for updated job postings and further information on the recruiting process.

In today’s competitive job market, career mobility and stability are more difficult than ever for young associates. Consequently, many associates are inadvertently making career mistakes by not investing more in career development. From not identifying career goals to not following through, associates can avoid these mistakes by playing an active role in their career development.

Providing career guidance to attorneys is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job, but it’s an unfortunate reality that I can’t help some associates as much because they waited too long to assess their career goals. For instance, my team frequently meets associates seeking to go in-house, but aren’t working in firms that would provide them access to companies with in-house opportunities. Similarly, we encounter associates who jumped ship too early to go in-house, later realizing they don’t have enough experience and find getting back into a law firm setting difficult.

Your area of practice can be fairly flexible in your first years of practicing, though it’s never too early to put pen to paper and develop a clear vision for the next 5 to 10 years of your career. Set specific goals for yourself and then map out how you are going to achieve them. You may get lucky and have a mentor help you do this – if you don’t – you have to be proactive. Consider where you want to work (location and type of firm), what type of position (partner track, off-partner track, in-house or non-traditional), and what you need to get there. Th en, evaluate your current position and determine how it contributes to your career goals – if it doesn’t, start positioning yourself to make a change.


Young associates tend to mistake transferrable skills and experience as just those applied directly in their practice areas. Legal writing, strong verbal and written communication skills, and the ability to bring in business are extremely important skills that firms are always looking for but are undervalued by associates. Focus on developing these softskills and seek opportunities that will garner you more experience. Networking can also be one of the best ways to develop transferable skills. Networking not only helps you improve your communication skills, it also helps you develop your ability to bring in business for a firm. Ultimately, associates that invest in high demand skills or specialties will advance in their careers and be a valuable asset to any firm.

New to the game, associates are inclined to — a particularly difficult time with choosing when to move, often moving too cautiously or too cavalierly. Though associates have the greatest opportunity for lateral moves in the first 2-5 years of practicing law, there are a number of factors – including your career goals – you need to consider before making a job change.

First, start looking before you have to start looking: the legal market is always changing and staying abreast of trends and outlooks is imperative. Meeting with a knowledgeable recruiter or reaching out to your network will also give you a better idea of what opportunities are available and how you will fare in the market. Second, consider how timing will affect your long-term career options. For instance, going in-house can significantly restrict your career mobility if you move before acquiring enough experience in a firm setting. Finally, don’t ignore market or firm changes that may affect your career goals. Leadership changes at your firm or company, layoffs, mergers, or major changes in your practice area may be indicators that it’s time to move. While some associates will fail to act before it’s too late to move (e.g., because the firm has gone under or proactive associates have saturated the markets with resumes from your firm), successful associates will take notice of warning signs that there’s a problem at their current firm.

Career planning and development can be difficult in any profession. No matter how big your dreams are, you must play an active role in your professional development to achieve long-term career success. Be honest with yourself, take the time to strategically invest in your career development, and seek valuable insight from any source you can. It’s never too early to take of control your career.

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