As a 4th year associate working at the same biglaw firm since graduating law school, I have picked up a few tips that I keep right next to my desk. Every time I make a mistake (this happens often), I write a new message on a post-it note and add to the mistake pile that sits less than a foot away from me. Unsurprisingly, the mistake pile started early on. It’s the dark, sad story behind numbers 8 and 9 I’ll explain below.
- Always understand what deliverables are expected
- Make the life of your partner or senior associate easier
- Better to say something than to make it look like you forgot
- Send pre-made alternatives (a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C when you don’t have an idea of what is expected of you)
- You work for the partner, who works for the client
- Don’t say NO without offering a YES
- Communicate expectations
- Are you attaching something?
- Is it the correct attachment?
- Print everything out – you find mistakes on paper that you can’t see on the screen
- Double-check your own work and double-check what your administrative support does for you
- Over-deliver and under-promise (if someone asks you to do something by Monday morning, don’t turn it in Friday night – wait until Sunday night/Monday morning)
- As a young associate, never act above your own rank (no task is too small for you)
- Break the whole down into component parts
- When you’re heated or feel something is trivial or meaningless, take a deep breath before responding
- Show enthusiasm for the success of a partner
- Be dependable – you don’t need to reply within seconds, but higher-ups generally appreciate a response to something within an hour (set expectations early on)
- Always google when you are looking for an answer
- Meet professionals in your field – people have been doing this for a long time; get to know them and learn from them
- Always think critically; don’t just blindly complete a task or project
- Never let your paragraphs fall flat – work on transitions from one paragraph to the next
- Be like the New York Times and write from the readers’ perspective – put the pertinent information up top (don’t bury the lede)
- Don’t talk about being a good associate – be one
- Communicate your deadlines – or suffer the consequences (when is this due?)
- Remember that it is all just a job and for many people – a means to an end. Know your goals (i.e. biglaw for a few years and it’s over) and you’ll be happier
Ah yes, the attachment story. It was my third week at the firm, and I was working in the private equity group. It was my first closing and things were going well – meaning I hadn’t yet created the mistake pile. Well that all changed when at around 8pm the night we transmitted signatures, the senior associate running the deal emailed me the following:
“Please double-check version numbers in the future when you complete the sign-off package – I’m just opening up each document to make sure it is what you’ve labeled it, but will try to be more conscientious of this also going forward. Thanks.”
My heart dropped into my stomach. I had sent an out-of-date version of a closing document to the opposing counsel. Luckily, things like this can be fixed, and it was. The opposing counsel responded immediately and was completely fine to swap out the signature pages to the correct version. No harm no foul. Well, I wished it was that easy. This one hung with me for days – I couldn’t let it go. I carried the mistake around with me for longer than I needed to and it turns out I was being dramatic when I thought I would have the shortest biglaw career in history. Lesson learned – and now it’s #8 and #9 on the mistake pile.