After you have the first couple of years at the firm under your belt, you will leave the uncertainty and fear that accompany being a junior associate behind you and find yourself enveloped in the fear and uncertainty that accompany the new tasks and responsibilities that define a mid-level associate. For, as you will see, no sooner have you mastered the tasks and duties of a new attorney, you will be thrust into situations that are wholly unfamiliar. What to do?
Think big picture. As a mid-level associate, you are asked to tackle assignments that may affect the entire case. You are asked to look at the big picture, to see how your actions affect the case not only here and now, but months, possibly years, from now, when the case goes to trial and the jury weighs all the evidence.
Start thinking about partnership. It is never too early to start thinking about partnership. You need to investigate what it takes to become a partner at your firm and what you need to be doing now to get on the partnership track. What types of cases should you be working on? What extra-curricular activities should you be involved in? What marketing efforts should you be engaged in on behalf of the firm?
Accept bigger challenges. It is time to move from simply doing research and writing, motion calender hearings and record custodian depositions to meatier projects. If you are not getting those projects, ask for them. If you don’t get them, then the partners probably don’t think you are ready for them. Find out why and rectify whatever shortcomings the partners believe you have.
Start managing your own files. Move away from piece meal projects and start working on entire files. Your goal is to handle more than just a hearing or a deposition. Your goal is to handle an entire case. Study how the partners run their cases and read everything you can about how others handle their cases - from start to finish. Apply what you learn to the files you are working on and ask to run them yourselves.
Start managing your own caseload. Don’t settle with managing a case or two. Your goal is to handle your entire caseload. The more self reliant you are, the more free time you afford the partners at the firm to dedicate to other matters.
Focus on a specialty. It’s time to pick a practice area and start specializing. Choose an area and become an expert in it. If you master an area of the law, it will show through your work product and you will become the "go to" person at your firm whenever that type of case comes in through the door.
As you move out of your first years into your middle years, it is time to think about your long term career. Do you want to become a partner at your firm? If so, lay the foundation during those middle years by assuming more responsibility and tackling that responsibility with the right attitude.