An associate attorney does not yet have ownership in the legal firm for which he works. An associate attorney may be a recent law school graduate, or he may have worked for the firm for years and simply does not yet own a part of it. The best way to become an associate attorney is to get on track to be a lawyer, which requires earning a bachelor's degree and graduating from law school. It is a good idea to get a clerkship while you are in law school, because it allows you to work for a firm before graduating. Finally, before you can become an associate attorney, you will need to pass the bar exam so you can legally practice law.
The first step before you become an associate attorney is to enroll in a four-year university, because you will need a bachelor's degree. Some schools feature a legal studies specialty that offers a basic overview of the legal field but, in some cases, this major is geared toward students hoping to become paralegals, not lawyers. If this is the case, you may be better off with a degree in political science, history or a similar major that requires critical thinking, writing and memorization. Most law schools accept any major, so you have a good chance of being accepted as a law student as long as you complete your undergraduate studies with good grades.
Before you graduate with your bachelor's degree, you should apply to several law schools, first ensuring that you meet those schools' requirements for acceptance. Once you are accepted to law school, you should plan on it taking at least three years to graduate. While there, you may want to compete for a position on the law review, or student legal journal, so you'll have the best chance to become an associate attorney down the road. The more achievements you obtain during law school, the easier it is to set yourself apart from other law students, which is often necessary to get a job in the legal field once you graduate.
Working a clerkship — a paid internship at a law firm — the summer before you start your final year in law school is recommended. In most cases, you will work directly with a senior associate or a partner at the firm, learning how to complete the daily duties of an associate attorney. Thus, you can often expect to participate in conference calls and meet with clients, gaining on-the-job training along the way. If the partners at the firm think you are a good fit, you may be hired to become an associate attorney once you graduate from law school and pass the bar exam.