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Junior lawyers frequently find the transition from law school to the full time practice daunting and stressful. One common reaction to the uncertainty of the first few years of practice is the adoption of a do-what-you’re-told-and-all-will-be-well attitude. According to this (mistaken) view, all a junior associate really needs to do is exactly what the supervising lawyer tells them to do�no more and no less. But such an approach can be quite counter-productive and even dangerous, both in terms of the individual project, and for the junior lawyer’s career progress. Instead of simply doing what he or she is told, a junior lawyer should recognize that the practice of law (at least in most large law firms) is principally a team enterprise. The overall aim of this team is to ascertain the needs of the client, and then to provide legal advice and other service that meets those needs, to the greatest extent possible. Just as no single lawyer on a team can provide all of the service necessary to assist a client, no single lawyer can know exactly what each member of the team should be doing, let alone in what order, or in what relation to the other members of his or her team. In this sense, at least, a lawyer is very different from a factory worker. Several corollary points of advice derive from this basic set of truths: • The entire team must be involved in gathering information about the client’s needs, and about factors relevant to strategy. Most clients assume that if they communicate with one member of a team at their outside law firm, that information will be shared with the rest of the team. You cannot act as an information black hole: Information that comes in must come out. That admonition is doubly true where the client communicates some criticism of the outside firm’s performance, or gives a specific suggestion as to how the client wishes to proceed. • The entire team must take responsibility for formulating strategy and tactics on a project. It is totally unacceptable for a junior lawyer to say, sometime after a failure in service appears: “Gee, that seemed like a bad idea to me, but I didn’t want to say anything.” You are not a potted plant. Use your intellect, experience and judgment to provide the team with any insights you have as to what you think does, and what you think does not, work well in the situation. • The entire team must take responsibility for implementing the chosen approach to the project. That means more than just working hard at whatever task you are assigned. If you see that the approach taken is not working (taking longer than expected, absorbing inordinate resources, or encountering some unanticipated obstacles), you cannot simply continue to follow a flawed strategy. You must report the condition, and (if possible) suggest reasonable alternative solutions. The following observations suggest certain habits that junior lawyers would do well to develop, particularly with respect to common sense and good communication. • At the outset of every assignment, make sure that you have the best possible sense of the purpose, scope and timing of the assignment. Ask lots of questions: How does this assignment fit into the remainder of the project? Who else is working on the project, and what are they doing? What is the timing for the project (overall) and for your assignment (in particular)? Are there samples or forms to use for the assignment? These and many other questions will help you better understand the context for the assignment, and may help you anticipate (and perhaps prevent) potential problems. • Establish a communication system (with the assigning lawyer at least). When does the assigning lawyer want a first progress report, and how often thereafter? What form of report will suffice (in-person, telephone call, short email, formal memo)? Must anyone else be informed of your progress? Ask these kinds of questions, if possible, when the assignment is made. If you aren’t sure of the reporting system, pick the most formal system (generally, in person) and the shortest time (generally, by the end of the day that the assignment is made) to report your initial progress. Report even if you have not made significant progress, and inquire as to how the reporting lawyer would prefer to receive further updates. • Do not wait to report bad news or unexpected difficulties. Problems generally worsen when unattended over time, and most supervising lawyers can tolerate mistakes but do not look kindly on cover-ups. The better practice is to disclose everything, as early as possible, preferably with suggestions for how the problems might be fixed. The antithesis of these good habits is the “stealth” lawyer, some one who carries on unseen, and unheard from, for days�or even weeks�at a time. He or she may work very hard, only to find out later that the approach taken was wrong, or that the assignment was superseded (such that much or all of the time must be written off). Worse, a stealth lawyer might tell an adversary, a court or a client some fact or plan that is no longer valid. The waste of time in correcting the mistaken impression, the embarrassment to the supervising lawyer (in not demonstrating control of the client’s affairs) and the actual adverse effects on the client’s interests � all of these can seriously detract from the stealth lawyer’s reputation � thus, over time, seriously undermining his or her career advancement potential. By contrast, persistent efforts to reinforce the work of the team (reporting on progress, spotting potential problems, and suggesting solutions) creates opportunity for others on the team to treat even the most junior lawyers as colleagues. The feeling that each has a part to play, that one’s part will assuredly grow over time, should help sustain even the most junior lawyer through the difficult process of becoming a fully-functioning lawyer.

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