What Does an Associate Attorney Do?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

An associate attorney handles the same tasks as other attorneys, ranging from researching legal information and writing legal briefs to advising clients and arguing cases in court. This type of attorney is not, however, a partner in a law firm. This essentially means he works for the law firm as an employee but does not have any ownership in the firm. Usually, an associate is considered a lower-level attorney and does not earn as much for his legal services as the partners in the firm. Additionally, he may not receive the most high-profile or desirable cases.

An associate attorney researches legal information, writes legal briefs, advises clients and argues cases in court.
An associate attorney researches legal information, writes legal briefs, advises clients and argues cases in court.

Often, attorneys who are considered on the associate level have less experience than others. Some associate attorneys have recently graduated from law school and just begun their legal careers; in general, associates have less than about five to eight years of experience as lawyers. While an associate attorney may not earn as much as a partner, the time he spends as an associate allows him to gain experience and learn from more experienced attorneys. He may also develop important contacts and get experience attracting clients for the law firm during his time as an associate.

In most cases, an associate attorney does the same things other attorneys do. Among the tasks this type of lawyer may perform are legal research and preparation of legal documents, and he likely will have filing duties and be required to advise clients both in person and over the phone. An associate attorney usually meets with colleagues as well, including those who work for the same law firm and those who do not. He negotiates on behalf of the firm, participates in jury selection, and argues cases in court. Additionally, he may spend a good deal of time analyzing laws and coming up with strategies for upcoming cases.

Often, an associate attorney doesn't start out with a lot of responsibility at first. Instead, he typically starts out by assisting with cases and learning under the supervision of a more senior attorney. With time and experience, he may gradually take on more responsibility, obtain his own clients, and have the opportunity to work as the lead attorney on trial cases. He may also also work up to earning more money and eventually have the opportunity to become a partner in the law firm. Usually, however, a person is not guaranteed to become a partner, no matter how many years of experience he has with a firm.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments

Logicfest

@Melonlity -- You want to talk about a hard row to hoe, just try starting your own law firm. Unless you are from the town where you want to practice and have a ton of connections, you will find it very difficult to make a living.

That is not to say you can't make a living eventually, but getting started can be tough. Some attorneys choose to work for large firms because of job security and the chance to make some serious cash one day as a partner.

The two career paths are very different and have their advantages and disadvantages. Some people have fun trying to keep their lights on from week to week, whereas others are more comfortable working for a firm so they can earn a steady paycheck and let someone else worry about overhead.

Melonlity

@Vincenzo -- I figure a lot of those young, associate attorneys put up with the grueling hours they do because they are paying their dues. Want to be a partner in a firm? You've got to put in some serious time, junior. Working as an association attorney is a way to get the experience and put in the time that shows enough dedication to a firm to cause partners consider promoting that hard working lawyer.

Of course, that lifestyle isn't for everyone. Those lawyers who don't want to go through all of that are always free to start their own firms.

Vincenzo

An association attorney is usually the lawyer who grinds, grinds, grinds out those hours. They work all night, on weekends and do little else but eat, sleep and breathe cases.

I have had more than a few friends go through that and it is a hard row to hoe. Frankly, I'm not sure why people put up with that kind of schedule.

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    • An associate attorney researches legal information, writes legal briefs, advises clients and argues cases in court.
      An associate attorney researches legal information, writes legal briefs, advises clients and argues cases in court.