A Case Study: Attention to Detail

One of the key qualities strong associates demonstrate is attention to detail. Your job is to sweat the small stuff. But it’s not always clear what this means in practice. Let’s take a look at an example.

The task: Junior attorney is asked to turn comments on a draft brief. Senior attorney has already entered comments into the brief using tracked changes.

Junior attorney does the following:

  • Reviews the changes one by one, accepting them and making necessary edits as she reviews: deletes an extra space here, fixes a typo there, etc.
  • After accepting all comments, junior attorney double checks her work by looking back at the edited draft from senior attorney to make sure she addressed all the tracked changes.
  • Junior attorney sends the revised draft back to senior attorney.

The grade: How would you grade junior attorney’s attention to detail here?

Continue reading “A Case Study: Attention to Detail”

Summer Fridays: Summer Associates & Interns Have Questions. I Have Answers.

Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thislawyerlife@gmail.com.

Today I respond to a summer associate wondering if she should expand her work to other practice areas.

Question: I am summering at a big firm. I am sure I want to do M&A work. Do I have to take on assignments from other groups?

Answer: If your firm requires summers to work on a variety of assignments, then yes, you do need to take on more than just M&A work during your summer.

Remember, this is essentially a 12-week job interview. You need to demonstrate that you can follow the rules.

However, even if diversifying your workload is merely encouraged but not required, you should do it for your short-term and long-term career growth.

Here’s why:

1) Practice group assignments are not up to you.

Even if you are sure that you want to join the M&A practice group, the hard truth is that the decision is not up to you. Some firms recruit for specific practice areas. More commonly, practice group assignments are made at the time the next batch of first-year associates is ready to join the firm, based on the firm’s business needs at that time.

Shortly before you join as a full-time associate, the firm will likely reach out to ask you to rank your top few practice groups. If you only worked on M&A deals during your summer, how are you going to pick a second or third choice? Maybe you went to lunch with a partner in the real estate group and had a good time. That’s great. But do you know what that person is like to work for? Or, perhaps more importantly, what the senior associates in that group are like to work for? How busy are they? What kind of work do the first years actually do all day?

Look, maybe you’ll win the practice group lottery, but maybe you won’t. If M&A doesn’t need any first years at the moment, or there are three associates vying for two spots, you’re putting yourself at a major disadvantage if you have literally zero experience with any other group.

2) Broader exposure is helpful for your end-of-summer evaluation.

Most firms conduct a formal evaluation of you during the summer, both to provide feedback to you and to build a file to support the ultimate decision to give you a job offer. Working across groups and with multiple attorneys gives you a chance to build more relationships and impress more lawyers.

3) Your true interests might surprise you.

I can think of several associates from my own summer class who went into the summer determined to end up in practice group A and then loved the lawyers and work in practice group B or C or D so much that they changed course. You will not have this opportunity to so easily float among practice groups again. Take advantage! At the least, you’ll confirm your desire for M&A above other practice groups.

4) Making connections across groups is helpful for your long-term growth at the firm.

One of the ways big firms attract, retain, and expand their business is by promoting themselves as “one stop shops.” In practice, this might mean that the M&A group will reach out to the white-collar group for assistance on the due diligence piece of a deal, advising the client on potential foreign corruption risks involved in an acquisition. In doing so, attorneys in the M&A group will reach out to the attorneys they know in the white-collar group. This goes both ways – a litigation attorney might get a call from a client wanting to acquire another company. The litigator is going to need to loop in someone from M&A to work the deal.

It’s never too early to start building those relationships. I can tell you from experience that it pays off – you would be surprised at the number of attorneys who remember working with you as a summer associate and will reach out to you if they need to consult a lawyer in your practice group, even years later.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Summer Fridays: Summer Associates & Interns Have Questions. I Have Answers.

Welcome to Summer Fridays, where I’m answering questions from summer associates and interns. Have a question for me to answer? Email it to thislawyerlife@gmail.com.

Today I respond to a summer associate wondering how busy is busy enough.

Question: I just finished my first week as a summer associate, and it’s kind of slow so far.  How busy should I be?

Answer:

This is definitely a firm-specific topic, so I suggest you talk to your summer coordinator or mentor.  Here’s my two cents.

First, let’s start with the basics: most firms expect you to account for a minimum number of hours per day, usually 7 or 8. Even if you take a leisurely lunch and also attend a training or other meeting every day, that only takes up 10-15 hours of the 35-40 you need to account for every week. This means you have 20-30 hours of time to fill.

Now, not all of that time necessarily needs to be billable.  Your firm probably has some non-billable numbers you can use like “professional reading” or “waiting for an assignment” when you have downtime.  But you should try to spend the bulk of those extra hours working.  During my summer, I made it a goal to pick up one new assignment per week. With ten weeks to the summer, this would give me exposure to 10+ attorneys and several practice groups. It didn’t actually work out that way – I often had more than one assignment to juggle at a time, and some assignments took less than a week while others lasted longer.  However, keeping that goal in mind encouraged me to be proactive about taking on new work.

That said, it doesn’t hurt to go above and beyond every once in a while.  One of my favorite projects as a summer was helping out with a last-minute brief. I stayed in the office until the wee hours of the morning helping the partner get it out the door, but it was exciting because I was doing research and drafting language that was actually getting incorporated into a pleading filed in court.

Bottom line: At a minimum, meet whatever requirements are set out for you. Take advantage of opportunities to work a bit harder and longer – not only will you earn a reputation as a hard worker and team player, but you’ll get some great experience too.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

How I Had a (Relatively) Stress-Free Summer Studying for the Bar

You finally graduate from law school…yet just a few days later, you find yourself stuck inside the classroom for several weeks of studying before what is arguably the biggest exam of your life: the bar.

While it’s certainly not the best way I ever spent a summer, the one I spent studying for the bar was actually not so bad. I’m sharing my tips for having a relatively stress-free time studying for the bar at the Ms. JD blog – check it out here.

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

Pic Credit: Pixabay

Today, we’re moving through the rest of my 10 tips to ace your summer legal job:

  • Implement feedback.
  • Use your mentors.
  • Attend the events.
  • Work hard, but don’t play too hard.

Check out the first three posts in the series here, here, and here.

Tip Number 7: Implement Feedback.

Yesterday, I talked about how you should make an effort to seek out feedback during your summer.  But that’s not enough. Truly stellar summer associates implement the feedback they receive. I cannot overstate how impressive it is when I work with a junior attorney who listens to feedback and never makes the same mistake twice.

Do these three things:

  1. When meeting with a supervisor to get feedback, take good notes. Pay attention to comments about formatting in addition to the substance of your work.
  2. Incorporate those notes into a master feedback document. If you have multiple supervisors, add their comments too. Just be sure to jot down which attorney provided the feedback in parentheses after the note.  Organize your master document by topic (formatting, substance) or kind of work product (general, client letter, research memo, pleading). I bet you’ll start to see patterns in the kinds of things that matter to your bosses and the specific issues in your work product.
  3. Every time you start a new assignment, refer back to your notes and find ways to implement prior revisions. So, if you have received general feedback about how to structure an argument, or how to start a letter to opposing counsel, take that into account. But beware, some lawyers have very specific formatting quirks which will not necessarily apply to other attorneys. This is why you should keep track of who provided each bit of feedback.

Tip Number 8: Use your mentors.

At many offices, you will be assigned an official mentor or summer program coordinator.  Don’t be shy about asking them for advice about office norms, questions about particular attorneys you are working for, or available resources. They want you to succeed.

Do these three things:

  1. Reach out to your mentor to schedule meetings or lunches, however your program works. Don’t put all the burden on them to foster the relationship. When you do meet, come prepared with questions but be ready to listen to any advice they offer as well.
  2. About halfway through the summer, check in with your mentor. Are there any big picture issues they can help with? For example, do you really want to try a corporate assignment but have been stuck doing litigation work all summer? Your mentor might be able to help.
  3. Say thank you! Your mentor is taking time out of their busy schedule to help you navigate the summer program. At the end of the summer, take them out for coffee or for a drink. At the least, you should close with a face-to-face conversation thanking them for their help over the summer.

Tip Number 9: Attend the events.

If you’re working at an office with an established summer program, you should make an effort to attend the events scheduled for you – trainings, observational activities, networking events, and social events.  Use these opportunities to make connections at the firm, get your name out, and learn.

Do these three things:

  1. Show up to every social event unless you have a good reason to skip it.
  2. Use the events to meet people generally. Don’t just talk to the other summers. You would be surprised how often this happens. Make it a goal to meet one new firm attorney at every event.
  3. Use the events to meet key people. If there is a particular attorney you want to work with, seek them out at an event. Don’t be super aggressive or weird about it. Just say hello, introduce yourself, and let the conversation flow from there.

Tip Number 10: Work hard, but don’t play too hard.

I have very fond memories of my summer associate position and the summer I spent at a government agency. Yes, it’s a 12 week long job interview in some ways, but it’s also an opportunity to meet lots of people and have a good time.  So have fun, but remember, you’re always on the job, even if the job is taking you to a Broadway show and bar afterward.  As I’ve said before, memories are long.  You don’t want to be the summer associate everyone gossips about for years to come.  People at my firm still reference the summer associate who got into a fistfight at an event afterparty.  More than ten years ago.

Do these three things:

  1. If you drink, don’t overdo it. Know your limits and pace yourself.
  2. Don’t feel like you need to close down every single afterparty, all summer.
  3. If you do stay out late, don’t show up late and hungover to work. I once went to lunch with a summer associate who wore sunglasses inside the entire time and talked about the strip club he closed down the night before. That’s what I remember about him, not his work.

Enjoyed this week’s tips but have some questions left I can help you answer? Send me an email at thislawyerlife@gmail.com. I’ll be answering reader questions throughout the summer in my Summer Fridays posts.

Part 3 of 4: Ten Tips to Ace Your Legal Job This Summer

Pic Credit: Pixabay

This week, I’m discussing how to ace your summer associate or intern position with my top 10 tips for success. Today, we’re taking a closer look at tips 4 through 6:

  • Master the simple stuff.
  • Be a professional.
  • Ask for feedback.

Check out the first post in the series here and the second post in the series here.

Tip Number 4: Master the simple stuff.

As a summer intern, nobody expects you to be a legal mastermind.  But they do expect you to control what you can.  This generally means conducting thorough legal research and turning in final, polished work product.

Do these three things:

  1. Spell check and proofread everything you turn in, including emails. Ask your secretary or a fellow summer intern to review your final product (and do the same for them!).
  2. Utilize the Lexis/Westlaw staff and free research 1-800 numbers. Research is usually billed to the client, so efficiency matters.
  3. Before handing in an assignment, the last thing you should do is review your notes from your assignment meeting to make sure you covered everything you were asked to cover.

Tip Number 5: Be a Professional

Often, being a professional means following established office norms. If you have not worked in a professional environment before, try to take your cues from more experienced attorneys and staff in your office.

Do these three things:

  1. Dress appropriately for your office dress code. It’s usually a good idea to wear a suit on your first day of work. If you notice that most attorneys are wearing jeans, you can relax your style after that. But people will tend to remember if you under-dress rather than overdress, so err on the conservative side here.
  2. Remember that your entire summer is, in a sense, a job interview. I don’t say this to scare you, but to impress upon you that even if the attorneys you are working with are super cool and casual, make sure you never forget that you are at work, not hanging out with your friends. You’re a visitor in the office for a few months; they work together all the time and have had time to build deeper relationships.
  3. This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: be nice to everyone. I mean everyone – partners, associates, staff, and other summers. You don’t need to be besties with your entire summer class, but you do need to get along. If everything goes well, these will be your colleagues for the first years of your career.  And memories are long.  The reputation you build as a summer associate carries over to your full-time gig.  Even if this is truly just a summer job for you, the legal profession is not as big as it seems when you’re a law student. The value of your reputation as a lawyer cannot be overstated; as a lawyer, you’re selling your services, so you’re really just selling yourself.

Tip Number 6: Ask for Feedback.

One of the common complaints new lawyers have about their supervisors is that they do not provide feedback.  A common stereotype of lawyers in general is that they are poor managers. These complaints go hand in hand, and I’m sorry to say that in my experience, there is some truth to them.  If you really want to improve, you’ll need to learn to ask for feedback.

Do these three things:

  1. If you turn in an assignment and hear nothing back, check in with the assigning attorney after a few days and ask if they have any questions or follow-up work from the assignment.
  2. If you turn in a draft of a document your supervisor later finalizes, run a blackline to see how they edited your draft. If you have questions about some of the edits, ask your supervisor for a meeting to discuss.
  3. If you do a few assignments for one person and the feedback you receive never goes beyond a vague “Good job, thanks,” ask to set up a brief meeting or coffee break to talk about how you’re doing. Come prepared with specific questions in case you receive another unhelpful comment like, “You’re doing fine.”

Tomorrow, we’ll walk through tips 7-10: implement feedback, use your mentors, attend the events, and work hard, but don’t play too hard.

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.

The Big Picture: How to AVOID Being Really, Really Busy

As a sequel to my last post (how to deal with being really, really busy), I want to spend a little bit of time talking about what you can do to avoid getting to the point of work overload.

In truth, sometimes there is nothing you can do. To be frank, the same is often true as you become more senior. This is a service industry, after all.

That said, here are my tips at two important points in your work cycle… Continue reading “The Big Picture: How to AVOID Being Really, Really Busy”

The Big Picture: What to Do When You’re Really, Really Busy

At some point, it will happen to you. Work will be so busy that your life feels like an endless cycle of: (1) wake, (2) work, and (3) sleep (aka, dream about work).

As an attorney in a large law firm, I have much more experience in the art of being busy than I would prefer. BUT: as a senior associate, I handle it better than I did as a first or second year lawyer. A lot of that is down to experience; I learned how to juggle my caseload and manage expectations.  I plan to dive into those topics in future posts.  Today I’m going to focus on one trick I employ to stay sane during busy weeks, months, and even years:

I carve out “me” time.

I know what you’re thinking: yeah, right! It’s true, when you’re so busy that you only see the inside of your home long enough to grab a couple of hours of sleep and a shower, the thought of seeing friends, your significant other, or even a 30-minute TV show is laughable, and the idea of carving out “you” time seems like a mean joke. But if you want to retain your sanity when pulling insane hours, you need to do it.

It doesn’t have to be hard, and it should not add to your stress levels. Carving out “me” time is really just a way to keep a little bit of control over your schedule and step away from work when that feels like an impossibility.

The key to making it effective is to carve out time in a way that fits your personal needs within the confines of your work schedule. So what does that mean? Well… Continue reading “The Big Picture: What to Do When You’re Really, Really Busy”

Getting Experience as a Young Lawyer

I keep thinking about an interesting article I recently read about a Federal Judge raising a question that has certainly been on the mind of many an associate, especially those working in big law firms:

How do you grow as a lawyer and take your career to the next level if you never get the practical experience required to develop your skills?

Working at a big law firm can provide many great experiences to junior lawyers. You spend your days (and often your nights) working on a number of large, complex matters. You deal with complicated questions of law and fact, and the sink-or-swim environment forces you to develop management and delegation skills, hone your attention to detail, and manage your time if you ever want to do anything other than work. Sure, you start at the bottom, reviewing documents or assisting with the most minor tasks relating to a filing, but even these basic tasks help you to understand how large cases come together, and help you to be a better senior associate when tasked with delegating those tasks to junior lawyers years down the road.

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Your daily work life can be a bit of a slog. And to what end? The path to partnership is long and incredibly uncertain as firms seem to be offering fewer and fewer partnership spots these days.

How do you distinguish yourself as someone who’s ready for promotion? The reality is that as an associate, even if you find yourself moving up the food chain at a good clip, certain tasks are beyond your reach or years away. It can take several years before associates act as first chair for a deposition on a billable matter. And even longer before they argue a motion in Court.

Now, you can learn a lot watching arguments in Court (assuming you get to go – with clients cracking down on bills, associates often find themselves left in the office while the partner goes to court). But there is a huge difference between watching an argument and doing one, and between preparing for a moot court, and standing in front of a judge hammering you with questions on the record.

So back to that article I read, where the Court identified and voiced concerns about this particular conundrum. Judge Grewal acknowledged that associates who “contributed mightily” to the case deserve their chance to develop their skills:

“All of this raises a question: Who will try the technology cases of the future, when so few opportunities to develop courtroom skills appear?” he said. “It is difficult to imagine handing entire intellectual property trials to a generation that never had the chance to develop those skills in more limited settings. Senior lawyer and their clients may shoulder some of the blame, but surely courts and judges like this one must accept a large part of the responsibility.”

http://www.law360.com/articles/769530/judge-tells-ip-trial-veterans-to-give-young-attys-a-shot (subscription required)

It will be interesting to see what happens in this particular trial, and in the future. Since Judge Grewal made his comments, I have heard of at least one other court asking counsel to present a plan for junior lawyers on the case to get more experience, which is a big step in the right direction. However, we all know that while many clients expect that junior associates will do a lot of the prep work to save on bills, at the end of the day, they hire the expensive partners for a reason, and they want the big guns arguing in the court room. So there’s a ways to go.

As a junior lawyer, what can you do? Well, there are a few options:

Continue reading “Getting Experience as a Young Lawyer”