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Leaders in law firms tend to be those attorneys who thrive in a law firm environment from the beginning—successful associates who become successful partners. Later, they are asked to be the leaders of practice areas, committees and, ultimately, part of senior management. While high-performing associates may not be formally promoted to leadership positions for some time, it is important to understand what makes them—as young associates—stand out from their peers. Who are these future leaders, and what qualities predict their advancement in a law firm environment? These are the questions we set out to explore.

To date, little empirical work exists on the characteristics and behaviors of high-potential associates—how to recognize them from the beginning and how to develop them. Instead, law students continue to be hired most commonly based on the law school they attended and their GPA, under the assumption that law school and GPA are related to future performance as an attorney. Transcript and resume review are typically accompanied by a series of 30-minute interviews consisting of questions that vary from candidate to candidate. Consequently, hiring decisions result from a combination of the reputation of the law school attended, GPA, and the interviewing partners’ gut feeling.


52 Santa Clara L. Rev. 875-898 (2012)