Part 2 of 4: Ten Tips to Ace Your Legal Job This Summer

Today, we’re taking a closer look at Tips 1-3 of my Ten Tips to Ace Your Legal Job This Summer.

  1. Show enthusiasm.
  2. Be Responsive.
  3. Meet deadlines.

Check out the first post in the series here.

Tip Number 1: Show enthusiasm.

As a law student, you’re supposed to be in the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed phase of your career.  So make sure you show that at the office. I’m not talking Elle Woods levels of pep here. You don’t need to put on a false persona if your normal personality is on the reserved side.  But you should show a reasonable level of enthusiasm for the firm or organization where you are working, for the cases you are working on, for your clients, and for being a lawyer in general.

Bottom line: People want to work with people who want to be there, so you need to be engaged, even if the particular case or project you’re staffed on at that moment is not all that interesting to you.

Do these three things:

  1. When meeting with a senior attorney to receive new work, don’t just sit there silently and stare at them blankly. Practice active listening. Take notes. Nod. Ask questions about the case and the project. If you cannot think of any questions on the spot, leave the meeting with some kind of pleasantry like, “Thanks, this sounds like an interesting issue. I’ll let you know if I have any follow-up questions once I dig in.”
  2. Similarly, if you have an opportunity to meet with a client, show interest! Ask about their business. If everyone is engaging in small talk before talking shop, don’t be shy about chiming in.
  3. After submitting an assignment, if you don’t hear anything from the supervising attorney for a few days, send an email letting them know that you enjoyed working on the project and ask if they have any follow-up questions.
    • Bonus: If you want to work with this attorney again, ask if they have other projects you could handle. If you hated the project, (or worse, the attorney), skip this last step. No need to torture yourself.

Tip Number 2: Be Responsive.

One of the easiest ways to make a great impression is to communicate well. We could spend days talking about how to do this, but let’s keep it simple. One of the biggest complaints I hear about junior attorneys – including summer associates and interns – is that they are not responsive, leaving their supervising attorneys wondering what they’re doing and how they’re doing. This is an easy fix!

Do these three things:

  1. Return calls and emails promptly. A general rule of thumb for office life is to return all emails and calls within 24 hours, but depending on your office, you may need to respond faster than that. In large law firms, response times are much shorter – folks will expect some kind of response the same day. Look, most people spend a lot of time in front of their computers and we’re all glued to our phones. There’s really no reason not to see and respond to an email.
  2. BUT: If you need more time to respond in full to a communication, just say so! It’s always better to respond to a request and advise that you need some time to look into it fully rather than ignore the communication completely.
  3. If you get an assignment over email, confirm receipt. The phrase “Will do” is often all you need. If you have questions, that’s a good time to ask. “Will do – I have a few questions before diving in. Are you free to speak at noon?”

Tip Number 3: Meet deadlines.

One of the biggest downfalls of junior attorneys across the board is a failure to manage their time and blowing deadlines as a result. This is completely avoidable, especially when you’re just a summer associate or intern – nobody is expecting you to pull all-nighters!

Do these three things:

  1. Stay organized. Track deadlines in your calendar and give yourself interim deadlines. Do you have a project due Friday afternoon? Break it down into smaller pieces. Finish your research on Wednesday, the memo on Thursday, and give yourself Friday morning to proofread and finalize.
  2. If you think you’re going to miss a deadline, ask for an extension in advance. (And in advance does not mean 10 minutes before it is due.)
  3. At the end of the summer, try to wrap up all projects with at least three days left. This gives your supervising attorney time to review your work product and follow up with questions. Do not be the summer associate frantically finishing a project on the last day, or even worse, leaving work undone.

Tomorrow, we’ll walk through tips 4-6: master the simple stuff, be a professional, and ask for feedback.