Ms. JD Book Review: The Associate’s Handbook by Francisco Ramos

The Associate’s Handbook, written by Francisco Ramos, is a resource for aspiring trial lawyers. In this article I will outline the handbook, and summarize the material provided in each section.  I will include my personal opinion on the subject matter and whether I find it applicable to the modern day lawyer.  The sections I will cover include: Starting Out, Attorney Marketing, and Trying Every Case.

Starting Out

Ramos suggests that all new attorneys starting out focus on self-improvement, becoming your own CEO, improving your writing, and finding a mentor.  Ramos finds it imperative that you take charge of your career through these four pillars.

Through the means of self-improvement Ramos explains that attorneys need to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work on them. Ramos believes that knowing yourself, and acknowledging your limitations will help you in the areas that you would like to work on and improve on, and as such, become a more effective counsel. The current climate of the legal market is extremely competitive, and in order to stay abreast, it is imperative to continually sharpen your skills.  You can begin this process by evaluating your strengths and weaknesses.  For example, you must accept failures and overcome your fears. Starting out as a new attorney can be difficult.  It is guaranteed that you will not know how to do everything, however, instead of becoming discouraged, it is important to accept your failures.  Learn from your mistakes in order not to emulate them in the future.  Furthermore, overcome your fears.  Ramos suggests to get ahead of your fears, and begin learning what problems attorneys face on a daily basis, and try to gather as much information as you can so you can deal with these problems head on, instead of waiting for them to begin.

In addition to self-improvement, Ramos subscribes to the idea that your career is your business and you are the CEO.  Similar to a company that has a mission statement, you too should have your own mission statement.  In order to develop your brand, you must ask yourself the following questions: What are my goals? What are my values? Who am I and what do I want to become? Having a mission statement will help you focus on what is important to you and what is most aligned with becoming your true self.

Furthermore, in order to strengthen your competitive edge, Ramos recommends developing your written and verbal communication skills. Communication is an attorney’s most valuable skill.  You can enhance written and verbal skills by reading court transcripts, enrolling in writing classes, and reading as much as you can. 

Ramos also leads a discussion on the importance of mentors to a new attorney.  The benefits of having a mentor is that you get to learn from someone else’s mistakes. Mentors can point you in the right direction. Mentors can comfort and take care of you.  Choose someone similar to you, someone you like, someone who specializes in your practice area, and most importantly, someone who has time and is committed. Make sure to meet with your mentor regularly, network together, trade favors, and finally, give back, pay it forward, become a mentor to a law student or newly admitted attorney.

Attorney Marketing

In order to get that next huge case, you need to learn to love marketing, specifically, marketing yourself.  Ramos begins this section with marketing tips, getting involved, getting published, and social networking. All aimed at getting yourself out there and building valuable connections, which will eventually improve your professional network.

Ramos explains that marketing yourself leads to more job satisfaction and more business opportunities. In order to learn to love marketing yourself, in other words, networking, you need to change your point of view on the process and learn to love it.  Think of this as an experience to learn more about the things and the people around you, Ramo says.  In order to do this, Ramos provides a list of marketing tips that are imperative to efficiently marketing yourself.  In order to learn to love networking, seek out your audience, develop a personal marketing plan, work the room, smile, read marketing books, just to name a few.  In addition to attorney marketing and networking, you must make sure to nurture the connections you have made, by continually following up, and sending out holiday cards. Aside from marketing yourself through networking, Ramos suggests that you also become an expert in your field by giving presentations in your topic of interest, going on a radio or TV show, or through writing articles for business magazines or on your firms website.

Ramos suggests that you get involved in Bar Associations, Business Associations, attend seminars, volunteer, actively participate, contribute to online communities, write for an organization.  However, you must do more than simply signing up for volunteer opportunities simply to put something on your resume.  Get involved in something that you aim to become a leader in, not just a member.

If you want others to see you as an expert in a practice area, consider getting yourself published.  Think about an area that is important to you, compile a list of potential publishers and read their articles before you decide where you want to have your article published.

Ramos also recommends that social media is very important, such as contributing or starting a blog, Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook.  More and more attorneys are using online tools to market their practices.  Build your LinkedIn.  However, do not rely on LinkedIn alone, you must follow up with your electronic contacts, and meet them in person in order to nurture these relationships.  Ramos also outlines strategic plans on how to utilize social media to market yourself.  For example, Twitter.  While using Twitter make sure to determine who to follow, when to tweet, how often to tweet, Ramos suggests to tweet daily 3-6 times a day.  Make sure to illustrate your areas of expertise in your tweet. Be helpful in your information sharing, by perhaps developing a blog.  When blogging, pick a niche topic, and if you start a blog, make sure to post regularly, include your bio, steer clear of giving legal advice. It is of value to control your output on these networks, and to always remember to provide value to your followers. Ramos then provides a discussion on Facebook.  Ramos explains that Facebook ensures the best value for your time with 1.65 billion active users a day with 1.09 billion of them logging into Facebook daily.  Make sure to control your output, provide value to your followers, promote events and continue these relationships outside of Facebook.

Trying every case

As an attorney we know that most of our cases will settle.  However, as an attorney you should try every case as if it is going to go to trial.  The rationale behind this idea is that if you treat each case as though it will go to trial you will continually be thinking ahead, fact gathering, structuring certain arguments that will win your case.  While working through a case, you will only pursue directions that will be imperative and valuable in winning a case in the court of law.  Ramos believes that in practicing law this way, you will better yourself, and improve your legal skills.

Closing thoughts

I believe that this handbook has a lot of valuable information for a trial attorney or any new attorney starting out. The first section that Ramos covers, Starting Out, includes information on finding a mentor.  This is imperative to any law student and attorney alike.  It is always wonderful to have a mentor guide you through difficult situations and to give you advice. Furthermore, I agree with Ramos’ recommendation of self-improvement.  As a new attorney you are always learning, growing and changing.  You must be willing to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and learn from them.

In regards to Ramos advice on Attorney Marketing, I believe in some aspects of his recommendations, however not all.  I believe that it is important to network in your field, and meet your colleagues and make connections.  If there is an area of great passion to you, then naturally, meet more people in the field, and become a part of organizations in that field.  However, I feel as though it is quite a stretch to begin marketing yourself as an expert via social media and creating blogs, and articles, and tweeting.  As a new attorney it may be overreaching to try and share knowledge that you simply do not have when you are starting out.  With that being said, do what makes you feel comfortable.  I would not take the advice from the Associate’s Handbook literally, rather keep all of this information in mind for when you are ready to take those giant strides.  The recommendations in the Associate’s Handbook Marketing section may be overwhelming for a new associate. It is important to always do only as much as you feel comfortable doing.  It is great advice in terms of “building a brand”, however most of this information is a bit unnecessary, and is written in a general one-size-fits-all tone. 

Ramos recommends Trying Every Case as though it will not settle and go to trial.  I disagree with this advice.  Yes, this is a great idea in theory, and it would be wonderful if all counsel had the time to try each case this way, however, the reality of being an attorney is time management and efficiency.  It is the ability to understand a case, and to settle a case in your client’s best interest.  As a legal practitioner, we do not have the luxury of pursuing strategy and wasting time in directions that will ultimately be unhelpful in resolving a case.  Again, a wonderful idea in theory, however, in reality, this will not work in practice.

Overall, the Associate’s Handbook has some wonderful advice for new attorneys.  I would advise that any new attorney reading this handbook take it with a grain of salt.  Pick up on the advice that resonates with you, and the leave the suggestions that do not. 

Link to Associate’s Handbook by Francisco Ramos

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