Slow at Work? Don’t Panic. The Year is Young.

If you are one of many lawyers who bill their time, each year starts anew. One associate may have billed 2,500 hours last year and another billed only 1,500, but on January 1, they both start at zero.

So we’re now a month into the new year. If you find yourself behind target, don’t panic. [Don’t know what your target is? I walk you through how to figure it out here.]

Depending on your practice group, a slow start to the year is totally normal. Some corporate groups are very busy at the end of the year, so the first quarter is slow. Some litigation groups experience lower hours at the end of the year (judges take time off and nobody wants to set deadlines for the end of December) and then cases pick up again in January.

If you are a brand new attorney who started work in the fall of 2017, remember that you were not the only associate who started work that day. Your firm didn’t necessarily have tons of extra work sitting around waiting for newly minted lawyers to pick up the slack.  In addition, the firm’s current associates were trying to hit their hours for the end of the year, so work may have been a little slow to trickle down to you.

So what should you do?

First and obviously, ask for work. Go through your firm’s assignment process but also reach out to your mentors and attorneys you have worked with in the past. Even if they don’t have work for you immediately, you will stay on their radar.

Second, think about the kind of work you want to do. Slow periods are great times to take a step back and think critically about your career trajectory. Itching to work on an antitrust case? Approach partners in that group and ask for work. Or take some time to read up on current antitrust news and get in touch with your business development team and offer to write an article or a client alert.

Third, get on a pro bono case. Do some good and get some great skills on a case.

Photo:  Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

Dragging at Work? How to Stay Motivated

We’ve talked before about giving yourself a plan for the week to stay productive.  But sometimes, you just don’t feel like doing anything.

I find myself lagging when I have work to do but no pressing deadlines. It’s hard to get motivated to get stuff done without a sense of urgency, but it’s also not that fun having projects hanging over my head.

My solution is twofold:

  1. I block out time in my calendar for each task I need to get done.
  2. I make up smaller, internal deadlines.

Let’s say I have to research and draft an argument in a brief.

First, I take a look at my calendar for the day and block out the time I think I need to research and write it. For this project, I will assign myself 4 hours in total.

Second, I break out the project into smaller steps. I give myself 2 hours to research, 30 minutes to outline the argument, 1.25 hours to write it, and 15 minutes to proof it.

As the afternoon ticks by, my calendar notifications remind me where I should be in the process. As I complete each step, I also like to cross that item off my to do list, giving me an additional (if minor) sense of accomplishment which in turn motivates me to continue.

What do you do if following these steps isn’t enough – if you’re still struggling to get anything done?

As a last ditch effort, I set a timer on my phone for fifteen minutes and just start writing the argument. No research, no plan, just pure stream of consciousness. At the end of the fifteen minutes, what I’ve written is probably not great, in fact, it’s often pretty bad! But at least I’ve gotten something on the page, and after fifteen minutes of constant work, I usually find that I can drum up enough motivation to keep at it for a while longer.

Photo: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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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”

Don’t reinvent the wheel, but do kick the tires.

Today, I want to talk about using samples when drafting work product. Generally speaking, it’s something you should always try to do. Most everything you’re doing as a lawyer has been done before. You should absolutely take advantage of that work – and many clients demand that you do – but you need to do so thoughtfully.  Don’t fall into the same trap as many young attorneys who blindly follow whatever was done before without thinking critically about how the document should be changed to fit their current case.

What do I mean? Here’s an example:

You are asked to draft a deposition notice in a federal case. Senior attorney directs you to a sample from another case and says, “This should be super easy and take no time at all! Just update the notice – you know, change the witness name, date, and location and it should be good to go.”

You go back to your office, do exactly that (edit the name, date, and location), and flip it back to senior attorney. That was easy!

Most of the time, that would be the end of the story. Except for this case.  Because what you failed to notice is that the prior deposition notice was for a third party and your witness is a party to the case. This means the earlier notice was served pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 (third parties), not Rule 30 (parties).

Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, and I agree. It’s not the end of the world. The opposing party might not even notice the mistake, and regardless, all you need to do to fix it is to serve an amended, corrected notice. But, if the senior attorney catches the mistake and you do not, your reputation will take a little hit for something incredibly silly.

But wait, you say! I followed instructions! I updated the three pieces of information senior attorney mentioned! Why is my reputation taking a hit?  Two reasons.  First, senior attorney might not remember that they told you to edit the name, date, and location.  And don’t even think about reminding them unless you want to look petty in addition to careless.  Second, even if senior attorney does admit they could have given better instructions, it’s still on you to own all your projects and make sure that you produce correct work product. Don’t assume you will always be given perfect instructions.

Here are three things you should always watch out for when updating an old document for a new case:

  1. Double check the basic document information: case caption, date, letterhead, etc. Make sure it is updated throughout the entire document.
  2. Check local court rules, including your judge’s rules, for changes or differences since the last document was filed.
  3. If you’re relying on case law from the prior document, make sure it is still good law.

Most importantly, think critically about the document and whether all of its content makes sense for your current case.

Photo by Ryan Riggins on 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 to improve his attention to detail.

Question: I just had my mid-summer review. My feedback was generally good, but I was instructed to work on my attention to detail. Any suggestions?

Answer:

Attention to detail is extremely important as a junior associate.  At the same time, it’s an area where a lot of people struggle.  When you are instructed to improve your attention to detail, you’re really being told to stop making little mistakes. This applies to both the substance and formatting of your work product.  Some tips:

1) Proofread everything: memos, document mark-ups, emails, etc. Figure out a foolproof way to catch errors. For me, that means printing out the document and reviewing in hard copy. You could also send it to your secretary to review. Or read it from the bottom up, starting with the last sentence. Reading out of context sometimes makes it easier to catch errors.

2) Pay attention to formatting: Your memo may include a killer legal argument, but if you use multiple fonts or font sizes, inconsistent spacing, weird margins, or present a multi-page wall of text without headers, the reader’s eye is going to be drawn to that stuff, not the substance. Ask for sample work product from your assigning attorney to get a sense for their preferred style and mimic it.

3) Use the Bluebook: Even if you are asked to send your research in an email vs. a formal memo, you should still use proper bluebook format for the cases cited.

4) Review markups without tracked changes: If you are asked to turn edits on a document and to make your edits in tracked changes, look at the document without tracked changes showing before sending it to your supervisor.  This will help you catch any typos, formatting problems, or substantive issues, which are easy to miss in a mark-up.

5) Before handing in an assignment: The last thing you should do before turning in an assignment is to look back at your notes from the initial request to make sure you answered the question asked.

Image 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 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 answer a question from a summer associate concerned with turning down a drink at alcohol-soaked summer events.

Question:

I am a summer associate at a law firm, and we received a calendar of events for the summer. Many events revolve around drinking. I don’t drink alcohol. Is this going to be a problem for me? What should I say if people notice I’m not drinking?

Answer:

Lawyers have a reputation for liking a drink, and in my experience, that reputation is based in reality.  So I’m not surprised that the majority of events your summer firm puts on include alcohol. That said, if you don’t drink – for whatever reason – it shouldn’t be a big deal. I’ve seen lots of people successfully handle this in a few ways:

Option 1: Order a beverage – like a glass of club soda with lime – and sip on that. You don’t need to call attention to the fact that it doesn’t contain alcohol if you don’t want to.

Option 2: Order an alcoholic beverage and just hold it all night.

Option 3: Turn down a drink with a simple, “No thanks.” Or with “No thanks, I’m good for now.” (Adding “for now…” might invite a second offer of a drink later, but it usually stops conversation in the moment.)

Option 4: Turn down a drink and explain that you don’t drink: “No thanks, I don’t drink.”

Whatever you decide to do on any given day, the key is to be casual and treat it like a non-issue. Usually everyone else will follow suit. But…sometimes, they don’t. Here’s how this can play out if you come across someone who tries to turn it into a big deal:

Partner: Hey summer associate, grab a beer!

Associate: I’m good, thanks.

Partner: Are you sure? We’ve got wine too, help yourself!

Associate: I’m fine, thanks. So what do you think of tonight’s event? Great venue, huh?

Partner: Yeah, it’s cool. You sure you don’t want a drink?

Associate: Yeah, I’m good. I don’t really drink. So, I wanted to ask you about xyz case you’re working on…

Partner: You don’t drink? What? Why?

Associate: No, I don’t. (Or, No, I don’t, due to allergies/religion/never developed a taste/etc.) I am, however, basically responsible for keeping Diet Coke in business! Anyway, what’s keeping you busy this summer?

Partner: Actually, I’ve got this really great case…

In short:

The easiest way to make this a non-issue is to: (1) have some kind of beverage in your hand, like a soda, making it easier to turn down a drink without explanation, (2) decline casually with a smile, and (3) appear to be having a good time at the event even if gasp, you’re not drinking alcohol. Abstaining around drinkers sometimes causes the drinkers to question their own alcohol consumption. This is a them issue, not a you issue, but it helps to diffuse the situation for everyone if you keep it low key.

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.