The Actionable Fundamentals of Law Firm Associate Practice

There are many fundamentals to outstanding legal practice in a law firm. High intelligence, a strong commitment to client service and a tireless work ethic are necessary, but not sufficient. The challenge for an associate seeking to ascend in her firm is to convert these attributes into repeatable actions. The following are five actionable fundamentals of associate legal practice:

Notebooks and Note Taking

Bring a notebook with you to every meeting. No exceptions. Whether with clients or colleagues, whether in person, by phone or by video conference, be consistent in your use of notebooks for each matter. Make detailed notes, not merely broad outlines of topics addressed. Consider what you are writing, including what to retain and for how long (remember: your notes may be subject to discovery in litigation). Keep track of the facts as they emerge. Do not rely on your unaided memory.

Lists

Create and maintain list of tasks to be done and matters to be discussed with clients. Have these lists in hand when discussing the matter with the client. Refer to them regularly and keep them up to date. Offer to run through your lists with your supervising attorney regularly.

Reading Documents

Follow Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s advice. Read the entire document. Examine words and consider their meaning. Read “boiler plate” provisions and consider if they are applicable to your deal. Understand what you are reading. If you don’t understand, ask questions. Read the document again. A misplaced decimal point can cost your client many millions of dollars.

Check your work product

Read and reread (and reread) your work product before delivering it to a colleague or client. Be sure you have answered the question. Check that your position makes sense. “Common sense.” If it doesn’t, check with a colleague. Prepare every draft client document as if you were going to deliver it to the client without further review (even if supervising attorneys will review and comment). Take command of and responsibility for your work product. Once again, a misplaced decimal point can cost your client many millions of dollars.

Email

Learn to manage your email flow. You will be deluged with substantive and non-substantive emails, sometimes hundreds a day. Understand and follow the email policies of your firm or company. Do not expect that colleagues and clients have necessarily received and read your emails to them. Know that your colleagues and clients will absolutely expect and assume that you have received and read theirs. Draft careful emails, including cover emails conveying documents. Be judicious in what you commit to email and which emails you retain. Consider carefully who should be copied on email and the impression that conveys to the client. Check and double-check that the email addressees are as you intend. Use the telephone rather than email where appropriate.

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