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Most law students are conditioned to inquire, during the law firm interviewing process, whether the firm will give a junior lawyer lots of responsibility early on in his or her career. Law firm recruiters expect this inquiry, and are generally conditioned to assure law students that the firm will give them plenty of immediate responsibility. But what is the nature of that immediate responsibility? The truth, of course, is that junior lawyers are often responsible, at the beginning of their careers, for handling the most mundane aspects of most projects. Awareness of that fact, however, need not be cause for dismay. The junior lawyer who learns to sweat the details on a project is well on the way to becoming a fully-functioning lawyer, capable of exercising much more responsibility. Here are some of the steps along that path. � Learn the process. The case method of study in law school focuses largely on only one level of practice in the law, the creation of judicial opinions (mostly at the appellate level). Vast areas of the practice of law (not the black letter substantive rules, but how things get done) are omitted in a classic law school education. The result is that, while most newly-minted lawyers know how to do legal research, and how to write an office memorandum, they know little about how to do most essential tasks in a law firm (how to write a complaint, how to prepare a motion, how to take a deposition, how to settle a case, or how to prepare for trial). For junior corporate and commercial lawyers, moreover, although they may have taken courses in corporations, securities law and the like, they do not know how to negotiate a deal, conduct due diligence, or complete a closing. The aim of the most junior lawyer, therefore, need not be to begin to do all these things immediately. Instead, the first aim should be to learn as much as possible of the process of how a litigation or a deal gets done. Part of that learning, to be sure, comes from doing real work on real projects in a firm. But the junior lawyer should also seek out non-billable experiences and education that can help in the learning process. Many firms offer in-house seminars that aim at imparting this kind of information. Several bar association and continuing legal education groups also offer practical introductions for the new lawyer. You may also find that an inquiry of a senior lawyer in your practice area will turn up his or her favorite introductory text or practical guide to work in your area. Borrow the book, read it and get your own copy for future reference. � Learn the forms. Virtually every practice area has some basic forms that are used repeatedly. Get to know these forms, and work on creating a set of your own forms, which you will maintain for future use. Getting to know the forms in your practice area, however, involves much more than simply having documents that can be used for different tasks. Read the documents. Read them closely. Try to understand what purposes they serve, and what rules may affect their content. When you have questions — and there should be many — ask them (of your mentor if you have one, or of the more senior associates on your teams). The forms may help you greatly in terms of efficiency, but if you do not understand them they can harm you greatly as well — such as when a form, or section of form meant for a specific purpose, turns out to be ill-suited to the specific task at hand. � Learn the problems. For any area of practice there are some standard projects, and some standard tasks that must be performed in connection with those projects. There are also, generally, some classic problems that arise in connection with these projects. Learn to anticipate the problems in the projects in your practice area, and to formulate solutions to those problems, before they become overwhelming. Many classic problems have to do with time: the affidavit that must be signed in time to be filed with a motion, the authorization that must be delivered in time to complete a closing, and other classic time crunches. Most effective lawyers develop time-management habits, thinking in advance about steps that must be performed, and what to do if deadlines cannot be met with conventional efforts. Many lawyers, for example, routinely make contingency plans for how to deliver a document after normal business hours. In the same way, there are some classic problems of organization on most projects. Most experienced lawyers are well aware that failure to organize materials and information at the outset of a project can lead to chaos and inefficiency as the project progresses. Learn to think of organizational schemes (filing systems, lists of tasks in progress, contact lists and the like) that can make work on the project much easier for everyone. � Learn to be helpful. The law school setting fools some law students into thinking that every person can act independently in the law. You read the book, you go to the lectures, you do the outline, you take the test — it’s over. The law firm setting is often the precise opposite; the key to your success is the extent to which you are perceived as being helpful to others. You may have a brilliant legal mind, but if you cannot provide effective service on the projects at your firm, you will not be well regarded. On every new project with which you become involved, think of all the things you could do that might be helpful to the senior lawyers and client involved in the project, then ask the more senior lawyers (repeatedly) whether they want you to perform any of these tasks. Many of these tasks may be the standard forms of research to which you are accustomed: “Do you want me to check on the elements of that cause of action?” “Do you need to know what the filing requirements are under Delaware law?” Others, however, may be the much more mundane tasks of getting a project done: “Do you need to get a conference room for that meeting?” “Do you want me to arrange for overtime word processing?” Be mindful, moreover, of the help you can provide just by being well organized. On virtually every project, for example, there will come a time when a senior lawyer will ask you to retrieve an important document, even though the document surely exists somewhere in the senior lawyer’s office or files. Similarly, in many instances, the most junior members of a team pay the most attention to schedules and deadlines, reminding senior lawyers and clients of when things have to be done. By being super-organized, and by taking responsibility for these kinds of details, you demonstrate to senior lawyers and clients your dedication to getting the job done right. � Learn to pass on your knowledge. Your passage from law student to fully-functioning junior lawyer may be quite rapid. Sooner than you may have expected, you will find yourself supervising more junior lawyers and summer associates. Take advantage of these first opportunities to pass on some of what you have learned about the processes, the forms, the problems and the organizing tricks involved in operating effectively as a junior lawyer. This teaching will come back to benefit you, in many ways. Having junior lawyers who know how to help you sweat the details on your projects can extend your effectiveness. Most junior lawyers, moreover, will appreciate the time you take to “show them the ropes.” Ultimately, the creation of an atmosphere of mutual learning and support will benefit your practice group, and the firm as a whole. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City offices of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, and co-coordinator of the New Associates Group in that office.

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