Landing the role of private equity associate at a law firm is an achievement to be celebrated, but while the career milestone does provide young attorneys the opportunity to rise through the ranks and eventually make partner, competition is fierce and future promotions are not guaranteed.
In order to separate themselves from the pack, private equity associates must carefully traverse an industry that highly values both teamwork and individual know-how, experts say, while figuring out how and when — if ever — it is appropriate to challenge decisions made by superiors or clients.
Those and other situations in the complex private equity industry require nuance in decision-making, and the right answer won’t always be completely clear-cut, experts say. Still, there are a few missteps that must be avoided at all costs.
Here, Law360 details four things private equity associates should never say.
‘That’s above my pay grade’
Private equity associates will sometimes find themselves asked to take on a task or answer a question that they are underqualified for, experts say, but the last thing they should do is admit that.
In fact, associates who keep their composure in situations where they’ve been asked to do something that’s technically above their pay grade paints the entire firm in a better light, according to Howard Berkower, a partner with McCarter & English LLP’s corporate practice.
“You’re selling confidence,” he said. “Everyone represents the law firm, from the most senior partner on down. Always be professional and project an image of confidence.”
‘This task is beneath me’
On the other side of the spectrum, private equity associates should never feel like their job title means that they are above certain tasks, such as filing, note-taking or even getting coffee, according to experts.
Private equity prides itself on teamwork, Berkower said, meaning that whatever it is you are asked to do should be done “without trying to act like the chore is beneath you.”
Even Berkower, who has been out of school for roughly three decades at this point, sometimes gets coffee for everyone. Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon to find partners making copies, he noted.
“One should be very careful protesting the fact that you’re overqualified to do a task that’s beneath you,” he said. “I think most successful firms place a premium on teamwork. That involves doing things you might not want to do.
‘I’m the smartest person in the room’
Associates who graduated from Harvard Law aren’t helping anyone if they’re constantly boasting about that instead of focusing on client matters, experts say. Associates should show off their smarts with the ability to get things done, not using their voices to remind everyone of their GPAs.
“That’s not going to get you many brownie points,” Berkower said. “It doesn’t matter where you went to law school or how smart you are. A lot of issues deal with emotional intelligence, not law, because you’re dealing with people.”
Associates could also find themselves boasting about their intelligence to a senior executive who got his start in the mailroom, Berkower pointed out. Not everyone gets the same opportunities in life, but regardless of everyone’s individual path, all members of a private equity team are considered colleagues, he said.
“Even though you have a law degree, you still have a lot to learn in terms of how transactions work,” he said. “You should leave your arrogance aside. Project confidence, yes, but you don’t want to project arrogance.”