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Hopefully, the junior associates who started this fall are growing more accustomed to the law firm environment. Right now, many of you are probably handling one assignment at a time and are being supervised fairly closely by someone more senior. You may even have the luxury of being able to devote your full attention to one task. Things change. Someone is going to give you another assignment, maybe even from another case or transaction, and you will be expected to handle both. Handling multiple tasks, or juggling, is one of the more difficult challenges to master, and it will only get worse before it gets better. But with some forethought, we think you will acquire the skills you need to keep everything in the air without too much trouble. ORGANIZE AND PRIORITIZE It may sound a bit obvious, but juggling more than one assignment requires you to organize and prioritize. We are constantly surprised by the number of attorneys who simply refuse to do either. You have to know what your schedule is before you can control it. What does that mean? It means that you need to sit down and make a list of what you have to do and in what order you have do it. Some tasks will have a firm deadline, others will have a deadline that is driven by the need to do something else on that matter, and others will be open-ended. Write them down and prioritize them. When organizing, you have to estimate how much time each particular task will take. Since you may be doing some of these things for the first time, it may be hard to be accurate. We suggest making sure to over-budget your time so that you have enough time. You might want to ask the person who just gave you the assignment how long they have estimated it will take you. Do not forget that person is also juggling and has made some assumptions about the timing of the task. Don’t worry, though — as your experience grows, you will be in a better position to assess how long something is going to take. Prioritizing can sometimes be more art than science. Remember, this is an opportunity to develop judgement, one of the most important skills you need as a lawyer. First, analyze the matter you are working on. Overall, what are you and your team trying to accomplish? Until you understand where your work fits into the big picture, you cannot properly prioritize what you are doing. Second, who are you working with and how do they like to do things? Remember you are developing your career and your standing at the firm. Is there someone who likes to see things done quickly and is impatient despite the fact that the matter lacks a true deadline? Use your judgment to take that into account. COMMUNICATION IS KEY When setting your priorities as a junior associate, communication is key. When you determine that one task must take the lead over another, it is usually not a bad idea to let the different people you are working with know your plan of attack. The rule of reason applies here. You do not need to e-mail a senior partner that you plan to do the research before writing the memo. Rather, you do not want someone to think you are busy putting their work to bed when in fact you are handling something else. Communication avoids these unpleasant surprises. Just as significantly, it allows others to readjust your priorities if they have a different view. Other people at the firm will be making use of your work. To properly set your priorities, you need to understand how your work will be used and when. As you learned when you were a summer associate, asking about the deadline is a key part of getting an assignment. But now that you are no longer a summer associate, you should be doing more. For example, if you are researching an issue for a brief, you should be less concerned about when the brief is due in court, and more concerned about when the first draft is scheduled to be ready. In other words, you need to understand that someone is going to be using your work in drafting a brief, and they have an internal deadline for doing so. This may sound obvious from this simple example, but you will run into situations where the chain of events is long and complicated. Nonetheless, it is important to take the time to understand how the process works. As your experience grows, you will be moving up the food chain, so now is as good a time as any to learn how it all works. In turn, you may not be able to do your job until someone else on the team has finished theirs. Maybe you are preparing a deposition outline and need to first get a name-pull of documents or you are responsible for scheduling financing statements to be terminated for a transaction but you need to have a legal assistant first order and then coordinate the search results. In setting your priorities, you have to take into account these situations when your ability to work on a task is dependent on someone else. Once again, there is no substitute for clear communication on this subject. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS You need to stay abreast of your progress once you have your priorities and have organized what you need to do. Again, while it sounds simple, it can be more difficult than you think. Sometimes, you will have a large multi-faceted task to complete over several weeks. Such assignments can be daunting because you may not know where and how to start. The answer is to break the big tasks into as many small ones as you can. By laying out the building blocks, you will derive a plan of attack. Setting out the smaller tasks allows you to have the ability to monitor your progress. Every office has someone who waits until the last second to do everything. Try not to be that person. If you take the time to set deadlines for yourself on the component tasks, you can ensure that you are not leaving the whole job until the night before. THE BEST-LAID PLANS You will not have been practicing for long before your priorities and best laid plans are thrown into chaos by something unforeseen. Whether you learn that you have to drop everything to work on an injunction case which just came into the office or that a seemingly simple issue is actually quite complex and will require much more work, sooner or later you will come to a point where everything you have to do just cannot get done, despite your best efforts. Trust us, this is not the first time this has happened at your firm — it happens more often than you think. There is only one solution to the problem and that is to inform everyone involved. If that new injunction is going to mean that another assignment you have is not going to be done on time, let the lawyers on both matters know as soon as you are aware of it. As long as you are working hard (and did not create the problem by procrastinating) you should not worry about these situations. Not communicating will only hurt your career. When you do not complete an assignment that someone was relying on, it is no excuse that you had something more important to do. If you do not communicate the problem, you take away the ability of others to fix the problem before it happens, and in doing so, you are demonstrating a lack of judgment. It should not be difficult to understand that this is not the preferred alternative. Juggling assignments can be tricky at first. Use your judgment and try your best to stay on top of everything. As time passes and your experience grows, you will learn how to juggle with the best of them. Jeffrey A. Fuisz is counsel and Alison McKinnell is an associate at Kaye Scholer.

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