You know what summer means. School is out, sales are here, and the weather has finally turned warm. Summers mean pool parties, beach vacations, longer sunshiny days… that is, for everyone who didn’t earn a J.D.
For those who did, including law school students aiming for a degree, only the latter is true (assuming you have a windowed office). Long, summer days for lawyers and law students means hard work and competition among associates and interns.
Especially for those recent graduates in a downturn economy, it’s important to stand out (in a positive way) in front of your employer. But, impressing the equity partner doesn’t necessarily mean accepting every assignment that comes your way.
In fact, according to Above The Law and its article on Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, who is a former Biglaw hiring partner, one of the most difficult challenges faced by young lawyers at new firms is being able to manage their workload.
So, before you accept a big caseload—and the sleepless night it entails—be sure to consider the following three bits of legal advice (which, you know, is rarely free):
1. Know your deadline and billable hours.
When bringing a yellow legal pad into a meeting, don’t forget to jot down the timeframe for the assignment. Key questions like, “how many hours are budgeted for this task?” or “when do you need this by?” will be both pertinent and welcome by the managing attorney.
Firstly, a deadline allows you to correctly budget your time, including the time it will take to complete or shuffle around the myriad other assignments you’ve been working on.
Secondly, it’s embarrassing to have your hours slashed by the name partners after they realize you’ve over billed the client for a task. By asking deadline and billing questions, you will earn bonus points for the respect shown to the client’s pocketbook and his case.
2. Know your limitations.
The first mistake often made by new associates is to accept too many assignments. More senior attorneys will be eager to use and abuse summer associates and interns by offloading work.
At the same time, an overabundance of tasks is the only way new associates accelerate through the steep law firm learning curve. Take advantage.
It’s important to appear motivated, but not immortal. When you’ve reached your maximum (save at least 4-5 hours for sleep), prioritize your caseload and ask a more senior attorney how to reassign the remainder. Where necessary, help to reshuffle the assignments to another associate.
Rushing through a brief, handing over sloppy work, or missing a court deadline is far worse than the appearance of laziness.
3. Know your resources.
Do you have the login information and passwords for Lexis? Do you know (and have a good relationship) with your legal assistant? Who is the senior attorney on the case, and can they serve as a mentor? These questions should be running through your head as soon as you’re assigned casework.
If you don’t know the answers, then you will face larger problems than pulling an all-nighter at the office. Take advantage of the resources around you. This means knowing where the library is (and using it), trusting your paralegal’s years of experience, and not being afraid to seek mentorship by a more senior lawyer.
Everybody at the firm has once been in your shoes. The first step in making a good impression is successfully managing what you can, and making alternative arrangements for anything you can’t.
For more information, attend C4CM’s course, “Time Management: Tackling Work Flow Chaos, Email Overload, and Office Interruptions.”