Remedies for Five Common Foot Faults of Junior Lawyers — Part Two

October 22, 2014

Business people working in groupThis post is the second of a two-part series looking at five common foot faults of junior lawyers and some practical advice for tackling these areas and achieving success.   Below are some suggestions for dealing with three common foot faults from former and current AmLaw 100 partners:  (i) not taking ownership, (ii) acting too informally, and (iii) not managing time effectively.

1)         Not taking ownership

Junior lawyers are well advised to act like each issue is their problem as opposed to the partner’s/firm’s problem or the client’s problem.

a)         These responses do not demonstrate taking ownership:  “I am waiting on a return call,” “I could not go further with the project because I could not make sense of the statute,” or “I was not clear as to what the next step should be.”

b)         Take action as if it was your personal problem.

  • Call the person back, call someone else, or figure out another way to get the task done.
    • Be creative to get to resolution.  Ask questions if you are stuck.  Make sure to exhaust firm resources.  Perhaps a similar issue has been explored before.
    • Look for ways to add value in any situation.
      • If something is not working as efficiently as it could, come up with ideas for how to improve.
      • Without being asked, look into an issue that gets raised at an event, draft a client/partner update after the event.
      • How can you help after your turn in your assignment?  Think about logical next steps and offer to handle.

2)         Acting too informally

Partners and associates alike complain about intergenerational differences and how hard it is sometimes for the different generations to find common ground.  One area of particular concern is the use of an informal tone by junior associates that does not suggest deference to partners.  The advice here is to soften your approach/tone.

a)         When accepting an assignment.  Consider saying “happy to help” versus “shouldn’t be a problem.”

b)         When evaluating different arguments.  Be careful about saying things such as “that won’t work, that is not a strong argument, etc.”  Do the work necessary to support your conclusion and even if you come to the same result, be soft in your assessment.  The partner or someone else you are talking with may be vested in that argument and he or she does not like to be told they are wrong.  Also, there is a chance you don’t have it quite right either.

c)         When talking at a client meeting.  Talk with your colleagues ahead of time to understand expectations.  Your role may just be to take notes and observe.

d)         When correcting senior folks (if you feel you must).  Generally, it is best to correct people privately (and certainly not in front of the client).  Slipping a note could work.

3)         Not managing time effectively

Many associates complain about not having enough time or about not having enough work.  To help achieve the goal of managing time effectively and maximize your opportunities to do interesting work, consider the following two steps: keep a full plate, and communicate time commitments.

a)         Keep a full plate

  • The more projects you are working on, the more potential billable hours it is possible to generate.
  • If you are leaving earlier than the partner, you are not too busy.
  • If possible, distinguish yourself from peers by exceeding both the minimum hours required by the firm and the minimum hours required to be eligible for a bonus.
    • Helps to have a lot of assignments to work on because at times you will want to put one project down for a bit, perhaps to think things through or because the partner is reviewing to confirm you are on the right track.
    • If other partners notice that you are someone their fellow partners trust with client matters, they are likely to follow suit.

b)         Communicate time commitments

  • If a partner asks for help and you are filled up, explain that you want to help, ask about the timing of the project, and let her know about any time-sensitive matters currently on your plate.
  • Determine, with partner input, whether you could feasibly handle the project.
  • Given goal of keeping a full plate, you may want to err on the side of taking the new project–assuming either that project is not time sensitive or that you do not have more time-sensitive projects than you can handle.
  • Overestimate your timing
    • Generally the projects will take longer than you think so you may want to give yourself a little time cushion.
    • But be careful not to fill the time you have just because you can.
  • Communicate potential timing delays
    • Provide advance notice if you cannot meet the partner’s deadline
    • Partner may appreciate your keeping him or her apprised of your status and you can buy some breathing room as far as a revised due date.