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Most newly minted lawyers have few illusions about their ability to do deals. Transactional practice is not a serious part of the curriculum at most law schools. On the other hand, we have all been schooled in case law and procedure. Yet the packaged assignments of the academic and summer associate world do little to prepare new lawyers for making themselves immediately useful in real-life litigation projects, usually far from the courtroom. The full-time practice of law requires a change of focus. Assignments are longer, and commitments are more substantial. Senior litigators want teams of reliable, capable junior lawyers, to whom they expect to turn, again and again, as issues develop in a case, and as new cases develop. Here are 10 proven ways to ensure that you do not get left on the bench. 1. Do research on the teams or projects. Early assignments in a litigation group may be largely random. Group coordinators or assigning partners may give you your first work assignments, as other senior lawyers may not know you. Once you get an assignment, you should do some immediate research on the people for whom you will be working. You will want to know as much as you can about their background and work. You will also want to know something about their work habits, their client relationships, and their management style. Sources for this information may include the firm’s biographical records (including the firm’s Web site) or Martindale-Hubbell. You may also simply ask people as much as they care to tell you about themselves. Your best source, however, may be other junior lawyers who have worked with these people. You should be looking, among other things, to uncover the connections among lawyers in your group, your office, and the firm as a whole. What types of matters do the senior lawyers handle? Who are their regular clients? What other lawyers are regularly on their teams? Senior lawyers are recruiting you and you are recruiting them. The more you know about what you are getting into, the better off you will be. 2. Get beyond the individual assignment. Your goal, on taking any assignment, is to get beyond the limited range of the initial assignment. You need to find out what else is going on in the background of the dispute and the steps that have been undertaken to date by the team. You also need to determine the plan (if any) for further steps. This is how future assignments may be made. You should be talking to the senior lawyers about their plans for the case. If you are interested in more work, moreover, you should be volunteering your services. Your mantra should be: “Is there anything else I can do to help?” If you can think of specific steps that might be required, suggest them, and offer to help complete the tasks. As you learn who else is on the team, you should be talking to all of them about the case. If at all possible, seek to become involved in team meetings and conference calls. Get yourself onto e-mail distribution lists. 3. Be a time-keeper. As a junior litigator, you can be helpful by keeping track of deadlines, and making sure that steps are taken to ensure that all deadlines are met. Keeping track of deadlines means, among other things, being familiar with all applicable rules of the pertinent jurisdiction and practices of the presiding judge. Indeed, even without a request from a senior lawyer, you might assign yourself the task of determining what time period applies to a particular action (answering a complaint, responding to discovery requests, etc.). Keep in mind that deadlines may be individually set. Check to see whether the court has established a scheduling order. If an extension is required, make sure you know how to draft an appropriate stipulation. 4. Handle the documents. As a junior litigator, you are likely to have substantial responsibility for controlling and organizing documents. Documents in litigation can take many forms. You should become familiar with the forms and with systems for organizing them. For example, you may be asked to keep track of pleading and correspondence files (or at least to make sure that copies of such documents get to your managing clerk’s files). Take this job seriously, as it is often important to be able to retrieve such documents to establish an accurate history of events in the litigation. Recognize that even if senior lawyers have copies, they will rely on you to keep a complete and accessible set. So, too, with documents produced in discovery. You must have a system to process them (review for privilege, relevance, and other concerns) and to produce them in a coherent manner, keeping careful track of what you have done, and making sure that you can reconstruct what has been done, if required. In all these tasks, seek to make yourself more than a file clerk. Read the documents for content. If you see something interesting or important, ask a senior lawyer about it. Often, your fresh perspective may reveal issues no one else has considered. At a minimum, you will get credit for initiative and will gain insight into the larger points of strategy. Consider also whether there are steps that senior lawyers might want you to take. Ask whether a chronological listing or “hot documents” set would be useful. If preparation is under way for trial or significant motion briefing, think about the documents that might be useful as exhibits, and share your thinking with the senior lawyers on the team. Above all, avoid becoming a “black hole.” If a senior lawyer gives you a document, make sure either to return it after making a copy or file it so it can be easily retrieved. 5. Handle staff and vendors. As a junior litigator, you can provide substantial value by “sweating the details” of managing staff and vendors who provide assistance. Such middle management may involve a number of tasks: arranging for copying, shepherding a document through word-processing, making travel arrangements, and so on. Volunteer for the tasks. Don’t assume it’s someone else’s job, and don’t give the impression they are beneath you. Make sure you fully understand what must be done, and the system for doing it. You cannot give proper direction to a vendor or staff person unless you understand what the senior lawyers want. Ask questions, moreover, as the work is being done. Often, you may receive assurances at the outset that the person knows what to do (and that the work will be done on time). You must stay on top of things, to make sure that mistakes and delays do not creep in. “I thought they were handling it” is usually a poor excuse when a person you were supposed to be supervising messes things up in a major way. Pay particular attention to any action that has significant financial or strategic consequences. Check with a senior lawyer, for example, before ordering $10,000 worth of photocopies. As a rough calculus, figure that the more significant (and irreversible) the action, the more you need to make sure you know what you’re doing, and the more you need to ensure that senior lawyers are aware of steps you’re taking. 6. Keep good notes. The junior members of a litigation team need to have pen and paper at hand at all times. It is critical to keep careful notes of directions from senior lawyers and to create “to do” task lists during meetings. Most senior lawyers expect you to keep track of their directions and not need to be told twice to do something. As a junior litigator, you can also help the team by keeping notes in other situations. For example, in the course of a witness or client interview, a senior lawyer may wish to maintain eye contact and keep the person at ease, rather than taking notes. It thus may fall to you to take notes (and even produce a memorandum summarizing the conversation). Make sure you have a clear understanding of what the senior lawyer wants. There are circumstances where a “no notes” conversation may take place. And the form of any summary memo may be highly specialized. You should also keep careful notes in dealing with anyone outside your team. Your conversation with an adversary almost always should be recorded (and reported). In any proceedings, you can probably help by taking notes and reminding the senior lawyers of any significant events (or potential questions) that may be reflected in your notes. Your notes may also be the basis for a summary of the proceeding. 7. Follow up on leads. Junior litigators frequently have more time to follow up on leads than do their senior counterparts. Leads can take many forms. Perhaps the most frequent are the points of spot research on legal issues that arise during a case. There may also be Internet and electronic research about adverse parties, contacts with potential witnesses, and scientific research at specialty libraries. Again, volunteer for such tasks. Senior lawyers will be impressed with your initiative. These, moreover, are the kinds of “higher order” tasks that can mark you as more than a mere functionary. 8. Collect rules. If you thought your reading of rules of procedure ended when you graduated from law school, think again. Litigators must be familiar with rules in numerous jurisdictions, and be aware of changes as they occur. Make sure you have a complete, up-to-date set of the rules applicable to each case. That includes general rules (such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure), the individual court rules, the rules for the particular judge, and any procedures established for the case. Read the rules frequently. Often, you may find more insight into the rules on second (and subsequent) readings. Share your insights. If you know that a rule may govern some action in a case, let others on the team know. Volunteer to do additional research to determine the background, purpose, and application of the rule. 9. Collect forms. Many of the events in litigation are embodied in forms: complaints, answers, document requests, motions, affidavits, protective orders, and pretrial orders. Development of sets of forms can have tremendous practical value. Collect forms as they are used in the cases. Search out the forms that others use in their cases as well. Keep in mind, however, that forms cannot be used blindly. Forms are affected by the particular needs of a case. Forms can also be affected by compromises in the course of litigation (as, for example, a negotiated confidentiality agreement). 10. Continue learning. Most junior litigators have taken basic litigation courses in law school: civil procedure, evidence, and perhaps a trial advocacy course. Such courses are only the basic building blocks. Consider taking advanced courses in the areas. Consider, also, taking courses in the specific substantive areas of practice in which you become involved. The greater your expertise, the greater your ability to expand your responsibilities. Even if you do not have time for complete courses, consider more modest forms of continuing education. Collect hornbooks and other basic texts in your areas of interest. Keep up with the journal literature. When you get a chance to participate in training programs and CLE opportunities, take them. Consider joining a bar committee or other organization that may give you opportunities for training and involvement in developments in the profession. Steven C. Bennett is a litigation partner in the New York offices of Jones Day, a member of the firm’s training committee, and author of The Path to Partnership: A Guide for Junior Associates .

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