“A Closed Mouth Doesn’t Get Fed”—Building Your Internal Brand and Securing the Opportunities You Desire as a Junior Associate

Growing up with a southern grandmother, I often heard the proverb “a closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” As I got older, that sentiment matured into the following advice from my mother, “never be afraid to ask for what you want because the worst they can do is tell you no.”  While I failed to truly appreciate it then, it was these gentle but constant reminders from the matriarchs of my family that ultimately characterized and shaped the roots of my budding legal career—hungry and fearless. Those characteristics then afforded me multiple opportunities to take depositions, argue at substantive hearings, and examine my first witness in federal court, all as a first- and second-year associate in big law.

What I have now learned is, as a junior associate, your journey towards professional success goes beyond simply mastering the intricacies of the law. Sure, that is important, but it is your brand and your ability to actively seek the opportunities you desire that can propel you lightyears ahead in your career. The success of the latter often hinges on the strength of the former. In other words, your internal brand is how your colleagues perceive you, and it plays a pivotal role in your progression within the firm. Once you have built a strong internal brand, your colleagues are eager to give you opportunities to grow—especially when you are bold enough to ask for them and, more importantly, are always prepared to handle them.

Put simply, building a strong internal brand is vital to your career development, and the task is far less daunting than it seems. The starting point is consistently delivering high-quality work. Be attentive to details and ensure your work is well-researched, polished, and aligned with the firm’s standards. Demonstrating your competence and commitment to excellence in every task you undertake will leave a lasting impression and establish you as a dependable person that people can count on. Moreover, not only should your work be pleasant, but so should your attitude. Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude. While your ability to effectively articulate your ideas and questions will showcase your legal acumen and demonstrate your eagerness to grow, it is your pleasant nature and positive attitude that will ensure you are someone who people want to grow alongside them.

Next, be proactive. Actively seek out opportunities to collaborate with senior associates and partners on projects, and never be afraid to express your interest in advanced responsibilities such as taking depositions or handling speaking roles in court or before the client. By proactively seeking out these opportunities and demonstrating your willingness to learn, you will show that you are more than just a passive observer in your legal journey. After my first argument in federal court, I made sure to thank the client before the day was over. I knew it was likely my supervising partners who advocated behind closed doors for me to have the opportunity; but it was the client who ultimately had to say yes to the idea. His response to my soliloquy of gratitude was simple, “you deserved it.”

Recently, I heard a panelist at the ChIPs NextGen Summit perfectly summarize how I arrived at that experience. She said, “as a junior associate, make it easy for other people to make it possible for you to take advantage of opportunities because half the battle is getting someone to say yes.” With that said, I wholeheartedly encourage you to speak up and relentlessly pursue your “yes.” Don’t be shy. Fearlessly ask for the opportunities you want. Then keep asking, even when it seems too far-fetched. Your ceiling only exists if you choose to acknowledge it. Remember, the worst they can say is no, but, on the other hand, there is no harm in asking when you have branded yourself as someone to whom they want to repeatedly say “yes!”

Written by Tracea Rice, Associate Winston & Strawn, LLP

Building a Brand Through Firm Writing and Marketing Opportunities

As a junior associate who was unfortunately a target of the COVID-19 outbreak era, I onboarded my current firm, Winston & Strawn, in an unconventional way. My summer associate program was reduced to four weeks of remote programming in 2020, which did not provide the same networking opportunities as if the program had been in-person. Thus, I realized outright that I needed to be proactive to garner the attention of my superiors, who were also adapting to the changing working environment.

When I joined full-time in fall 2021 as a corporate junior associate in New York, the legal industry embraced a hybrid work format in which internal calls and one-on-one engagements were still generally conducted remotely. This implied that a lot of my working hours were spent online on the computer, either at home or in my office behind closed doors. Having had the time and opportunity to adapt to a remote working environment during my third year of law school, I proactively researched and virtually reached out to partners and associates who practiced within my career interests.

I was delighted to find that the firm had a video gaming practice, although most of the work was conducted in litigation. I reached out to the head partner, who practiced IP litigation in Los Angeles; although a different office and practice altogether, we were quickly able to touch base on my past experiences working in the video gaming and technology industries. I started drafting articles right away for The Play Book, the firm’s dedicated blog to topics including video games, esports, and more.

I really enjoyed writing blog articles because I was not only actively contributing to the firm’s marketing and promotions, but I was also building my own brand as a lawyer. Once my blog article draft was proofread by a partner, it was published on the blog, which would be circulated both internally and externally via social media. As a huge proponent of LinkedIn and an active user, I shared my work and commented on how the issues I had mentioned were notable from both legal and business perspectives.

During early 2022, my articles on the intersection of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and gaming generated top traction and led to many inbound client calls from gaming, cryptocurrency, and Web3 sectors with which our interdisciplinary team consulted. Furthermore, I was able to network with many other relevant professionals online as well as touch base with classmates who were also interested in the work we were doing. Within the first six months of working full-time at the firm, I even attended a networking business trip to the 2022 SXSW Conference held in Austin, Texas.

I believe that as a junior associate, one should embrace all opportunities to succeed and be creative. While my current day-to-day practice has shifted more towards the M&A and finance work and the partner has since departed for another firm, I still try to engage in blog writing as much as possible. I have contributed to pieces on securities litigation and intellectual property, while still maintaining my personal brand on LinkedIn by frequently commenting and sharing articles. I am hope that my experience in the first year balancing both internal and external branding for both the firm and my own pursuits will prepare me for the next years in BigLaw.

Written by Wooseok Ki, Associate Winston & Strawn, LLP