Heedless of the old saw that free advice is worth what you pay for it, the Editors of The Temple 10-Q thought it might help students and recent graduates beginning new jobs (e.g., as summer associates)—and those who employ them—to have a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” accumulated from our years of hard experience. Although some of these tips more likely apply in a “BigLaw” setting, most apply anywhere and, we would like to think, can be useful reminders for all starting in a new position.
This is the first of two parts, and covers “the work.” Part 2 will follow next week, and cover “the social stuff.”
If you like this list—or don’t—let us know. If you have other, better suggestions, please let us know what they are. We’d love to hear from you.
- Understand the assignment to the best of your ability. Listen as effectively as you possibly can; senior lawyers (and, if you are lucky, clients) will dump complex projects on you with sometimes less-than-adequate explanations. Never enter anyone’s office (or leave your own) without a pad of paper and a pen. You will need to be able to take lots of notes on the fly.
- Listening is important because, among other reasons, you will want to try to figure out what’s going on to the best of your ability without pestering the person you work for with needless questions.
- Of course, you will (or should) have questions, so you should think clearly about what they are—and why you have them—before asking them. Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as a stupid question—and you may have to ask one. That’s not necessarily a problem, if you have a good reason for asking it, because you won’t know that the question is stupid until you ask. In any case, if you feel you are in the dark, don’t proceed too far—don’t “get ahead of your skis”—without clearing up major uncertainties.
- Key questions to which you should always know the answer are: (i) What’s the deadline? (ii) What’s the deliverable? (iii) Who is the ultimate audience? (iv) Who should I ask if I have questions? (caution: do not ask if you work with only one person).
- Try to learn as much about the project/client/players in advance as possible. Try to see the big picture and how your (probably) smaller role fits into it.
- This goes for the person you are working for, too. What is her background, and how does she tend to operate?
- Know the processes/practices/local norms where you work. If there’s an employee handbook, read it (but don’t officiously quote it to correct a misguided senior person).
- Sometimes you may be asked to produce a “draft.” Do not be fooled. Even if it purports to be a “draft,” do not treat it as anything less than a final version. Come as close to perfection as time/resources/your judgment allow.
- Unless your office practices differ, always mark a draft “DRAFT,” with your initials and date. Consider whether it should be marked “privileged and confidential” (probably, but that’s above our paygrade).
- Always—ALWAYS—make sure that your work product is the best that it can be. Is it consistent with the office’s form/style? If they always use Calibri, don’t be “different” and use Copperplate Gothic Bold. Is it grammatically correct? Have you proofed it (twice) and run spell-check (remembering that even this won’t save you, if you’ve written brilliantly about a “proof of clam”)?
- Presume that everything—EVERYTHING—is confidential. Never talk shop to the media, friends at other firms, or even in the elevator with colleagues (which you may be tempted to do—because they will) if doing so presents any risk of revealing confidential or sensitive information.
- Most important: Have you solved the problem you were asked to solve as effectively as possible under the circumstances? At the end of the day, you are in a service profession, and the service is problem-solving. You are entering a very competitive environment, and there are many other, highly qualified people who would love to show that they can solve these problems better than you—which they will, if they’ve followed these tips, and you haven’t . . . .
There is doubtless more we could say. And so we will, next week, when we offer a random list of tips on social matters.