So this week has involved many hours writing a trial brief on contract construction/ parol evidence, getting ready for a big hearing, consoling/ counseling tearful clients, doing subpoenas, writing consolidated orders, etc. Over the last few weeks I've been thinking about some of the tips I would offer new associates, just out of what I've learned in my first year so far. Here's a few:
1) There's no such thing as a first draft--ever. Assume that your work product, once it leaves your hands, could be filed with the court, submitted to opposing counsel, presented to a client, etc., with absolutely no changes or time for revisions. In other words, whatever work you give to your assigning partner had better be a final draft--captioned correctly, with any certificates of service included, totally ready to go. If you don't do this, you run the risk of having your work being labeled as sloppy.
2) Learn the preferences of your assigning partners and supervisors, even if you think they are nitpicky. Find out exactly how anyone who is assigning you work wants it to be completed--printed or emailed? Paper-clipped or stapled? Find out each person's stylistic preferences for pleadings and motions--and don't just stop there, make a running list of the types of edits you receive on work from each partner so that you can start to learn what they do and do not like. It's impressive when a partner doesn't have to tell an associate something twice because the associate referred back to The List before turning in another assignment to that partner.
3) Read this article. Do basically everything it says. Better yet, print it out, highlight it, and ever so casually leave a copy laying on your desk for when the partners come into your office (as I have unashamedly done).
4) Start carving out an area of expertise as soon as possible, read as much as you can about that topic, and make it known to others that you are really interested in that area so that they are more likely to assign cases in that area to you. I've made it known in my practice group that I love working with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. Since 90% of family law attorneys hate those cases and I actually really like them, I've been given a lot of responsibility on any cases that our firm gets that have to do with the UCCJEA.
5) Make a professional development plan. My plan includes hard skills I would like to develop (taking a deposition, arguing a motion, writing a significant brief or motion for summary judgment, etc.), classes and conferences I would like to attend, networking activities I would like to be involved in, soft skills I would like to develop (things like being a better listener, taking more initiative, etc.), and industry publications I'm committing to keeping up with (and, down the road, hopefully writing articles for). Put deadlines into the plan. "By ____ date, I would like to have handled a client meeting by myself." This plan should also be printed out and casually placed on your desk next to that article described in point #3.
6) Do the job before you have it. If you want to be a partner at your firm someday, you need to start thinking, working, and strategizing on your cases as if you already are one. If you were handling the case by yourself, what would you do? Don't be afraid to offer unsolicited ideas on case strategy to partners, to take the initiative to research ideas on your own and present them as options to partners, and even to present alternative solutions to a problem.
7) Do the little things well. Always keep up with your billing; no one should have to ask you to do this. Proofread all of your emails before you hit send--it's amazing how often people don't do this. Keep up with your paperwork and keep your office reasonably organized, or else people might think you are a slob. Always show up to everything on time, even if it's just a quick meeting in the office.
8) Networking is now your job just as much as it was before you had a job. Go to events, join your local bar association, volunteer somewhere, and follow up with people you meet. This is how you begin to establish both your reputation in the legal community and a client base.
9) Volunteer for anything and everything you can. Volunteer to write short articles for your local bar association newsletter, to draft up new policies for your firm on e-discovery, to head up fundraising for the campaign to raise money for pro bono organizations, etc. Demonstrate a willingness to jump into things with energy and enthusiasm and the greater opportunities won't be too far away.
10) Don't wear green nail polish to work.