An associate is an attorney who works for a law firm without becoming a partner. Associate attorneys generally have the goal of becoming a partner at a certain time. They gain practice experience and are assigned to increasingly important tasks. They can be passed over for partner positions, and some firms hire summer associates to help fill the openings during the summer months. A lawyer should not confuse being an associate with being a partner.
Associates are not formally titled lawyers, but their work is closely related. Although associates begin with less responsibility than other attorneys, they may eventually be able to obtain their own clients and work as the lead attorney on trial cases. If this is the case, they may become partners in the firm, but they aren’t guaranteed. Associates usually report to their superiors during the workday and rely on their supervisors to get new assignments.
An associate works under the supervision of a partner or senior associate. They often work under the supervision of paralegals and trainees. The level of supervision and work assignments vary from firm to firm. In most firms, associates work for 6 to nine years before being promoted to the next level. Associates may become partners by the time they have been in the firm for more than five years. However, the path to partnership depends on a lawyer’s preference and the culture of the firm.
The primary difference between an associate and a lawyer is the amount of responsibility each person has. An associate is far less likely to be held liable for the firm’s mistakes than a partner is, but their work can be just as valuable. While an associate may not have as much responsibility as a partner, they are less likely to be dismissed when a firm is not profitable. In addition, partners are responsible for the actions of their employees.