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A Few Words of Cringe-Worthy But Good Advice to Associates

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  • A Few Words of Cringe-Worthy But Good Advice to Associates

    The thing about pieces that give advice to associates is that they can be so annoying. Patronizing, hectoring, infantilizing. Simply cringe-inducing to read.

    We suspect that most of them are written by people who merely seem well-scrubbed and eager on the outside — the very model of a what a law firm might look for in an associate. Inside, however, we suspect these folks are seething with self-loathing. We like to imagine them down the road a bit, having just received word that they were passed over for partnership. Our reveries feature smeared mascara and kicked-over trashcans, eating and drinking binges.

    The doubly annoying thing about these pieces is that, when done well, they can actually be worth reading. And that brings us to this piece, which appears in Friday’s Legal Intelligencer and is authored by something called the “Young Lawyer Editorial Board.”

    Associates, as painful as it might be, we suggest you shelve your pride read it. The topic: “Taking Ownership of Your Own Work.” It opens (hold your nose):
    Nearly all associates, if they really think about it, can cite to an example of their own sheer laziness. At the very least, associates can cite to times when they consciously delivered an acceptable, but not exceptional, work product. In a moment of true confession, too many of us would acknowledge having handed in a pile of highlighted cases in response to a research assignment, or submitting a motion to a partner with the tag “early draft.”

    In this new year, we challenge young attorneys to take ownership of the final work product. That’s right — independent thought and analysis are back in 2010. We call on our colleagues to research, proofread and edit as if “the buck stops here.”

    So painful. But probably right. It continues:
    When you approach your research, writing, proofing and editing with the awareness that your input could be the last — or only — before filing, the intensity and focus will magically follow. Why not do it every time? It is not as easy as it sounds, but it is certainly a worthy goal. When you imagine that the client or judge will be the only other set of eyes on your memorandum, you will demand more of yourself.

    Approach research assignments with a true sense of ownership. You must not simply know the case law, but you must know the current state of the law. Researching requires not only uncovering the materials that will help your client, but also finding what your opponent will utilize. Although you won’t want your memorandum to spell out the counter-argument for your opponent, be certain that you have educated the assigning partner about potential pitfalls and how to address them.

    Okay, we’ll stop blockquoting here. The piece goes on with other kernels of advice: speak up when you’ve uncovered a mistake, tackle little projects “that you know will be helpful,” ask questions, etc., etc.

    Here’s how to approach this piece. Read it, loathe it, put it away. Then this weekend, give it another read, possibly with a snifter of brandy at your side. Then resolve to put its messages to use.

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