After a few years, an associate will start supervising more junior associates in researching and writing memos, filing basic corporate documents and due diligence reviews. A mid-level associate will have a larger role in transactions. You become responsible for drafting key contracts for a deal and for taking and processing people's comments on them. This usually involves taking a merger document from a deal that has been completed, and altering it based on information you get from a partner about how this deal is different. You prepare a first draft and give it to the partner to review. The partner sends it back to you with comments and suggestions. The partner may then ask you to show the document to a tax lawyer, an employee benefits lawyer or a real estate lawyer for comments. You'll make changes to the document until everyone in your firm is happy with it. Then you or your partner will send it off to the other party's lawyers. Depending on how complicated the deal is, you might get to negotiate whether to use these changes or leave the document as is. Otherwise, your partner or senior associate will handle the negotiation, returning the suggested changes or compromise language to you so you can implement them.
At some point, you may also be responsible for creating a transaction checklist, a list of all the documents that need to be drafted, reviewed and signed before the deal is complete. You may be asked to file disclosure information about parties to an acquisition or merger with the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. As you gain seniority, you should be able to draft and negotiate more complex contracts, such as stock purchase agreements and complex merger agreements, firm opinions and shareholder agreements. You should also be able to form limited liability companies and draft securities filings. In addition, you will become more comfortable with advising a client who may be trying to decide how to structure an acquisition or a joint venture.
Sometimes, chance dictates the progress of your law firm career. "When I was a second year," says an in-house counsel with seven years of experience, "I was very fortunate because we were short-staffed, so I was assigned to several large M&A deals, one of which was an auction. All of the associates were sending out forms to all of the bidding companies and doing their markups while our company was deciding which company they wanted to do the deal with. This meant that I got a whole lot of experience and training working with a senior associate, which in turn meant that a partner gave me one to do on my own when I was a second-year. When I handled that transaction well on my own, I was given a leasing transaction to evaluate on my own, and then a document to review and negotiate and revise on my own."
In general, the more seniority you achieve, the more often you will negotiate documents with opposing counsel, have responsibility for documents and oversee deals. This means that you will have more opportunities to give a client advice and manage your client's expectations and supervise (and train) more junior associates. Just how much more direct client contact you will have after your second or third year depends on the nature and size of the client. Larger, more institutional or long-time clients tend to deal with partners, while smaller clients might work with associates, both because of partners' higher billing rates and because associates are generally more accessible. It also depends on how busy a firm is -- in a very busy firm, client contact can come much earlier in an associate's career.