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”

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