Oh, no. A partner wants to give you an assignment. Or wants to review an assignment that they left on your desk. You haven’t worked with the partner before. You don’t know what to expect, and you’re not especially confident in your skills as a new attorney. Heck, you might not have gotten your bar results back yet.
So what do you do?
There is going to be a lot of advice available on what to do. The best advice, in my opinion, is to use your network. (See Make Real Connections)
What do I mean? Look to see who’s worked in the position you’re in with the partner before.
- They know at least a few pitfalls;
- They (hopefully) know what this partner likes;
- You can find out more about a colleague; and
- You’ve created a stronger bond.
That last one is somewhat counterintuitive to many of us. There are multiple studies out there, however, that show asking a small favor actually improves the bond between two people.
Think about it–when you helped someone yourself, how did it make you feel? Good, right? We do small things for people every day, and it makes us feel better.
You might think this will make you look clueless. Guess what. You are. And anyone who’s been where you are knows that feeling. Not asking for help from someone who’s already shown an interest in helping you hurts everyone:
- The organization – you’re unprepared and will waste resources floundering;
- The partner – you’re making their task that much harder;
- Your ally – that important bond isn’t grown, and soon enough, you’ll return a favor if they think to ask you; and
- You – you’re going to look good in front of the partner.
Even if the person you’ve asked isn’t someone who’s worked with the partner before, stories flow through an office quickly. (See Cultivate and Protect Your Reputation) And there are particulars to every partner that you’re not going to see coming. Some examples from my own experience and folks I’ve helped are:
- I brought a pen and paper to a meeting, and the partner told me to put them away because it showed I wasn’t “really listening”;
- A partner got incredibly irritated if a file wasn’t in chronological order, even if they handed the file to you out of that order;
- A partner would forget there was a meeting, and it was best to work with their assistant, because the partner relied on the assistant to keep them on track rather than calendar appointments; and
- A partner liked to call “fire drills”, where they would tell everyone that the client needed a project completed by an unreasonable deadline, but that 90% of the time, the work never reached the client.
Some of these will save your sanity at the end of the day, but they’re not necessarily what to expect. And I’m sure one or two of these surprised you. They also surprised someone before you who had to experience it first-hand, and odds are they don’t want anyone else to go through that again. Don’t forget to ask the partner’s assistant (if they have one) for any preferences and tips. A partner’s assistant works day in and day out with them and knows all their quirks in ways your fellow attorneys likely can’t know.
And, this might be obvious to most of you, but show your gratitude for this help. Say thank you. Write an email. After the meeting, let them know how it went and how their advice helped you.
So that’s number one. There are other tips you should also follow.
Have all the files you can think of ready for the partner to review. I know it’s the age of electronic files. And if you’re working remotely, you’re going to have to handle things electronically. My suggestion is to email links to your organization’s database or copies five minutes prior to the meeting so that the partner doesn’t have to scroll through their inbox to find an email you sent before. If the meeting is in person and the partner is a paper copy aficionado (and you’ll know this because you’ve asked), make sure to have physical copies. Otherwise, the partner will likely simply print out the files in front of you.
Know what you’ve done. This may sound silly. Often, though, the partner might have another matter come up, which means you have to reschedule. It’s likely you’re going to be working on multiple matters or projects, and refreshing what you’ve done prior to the meeting is important. Further, having a summary ready to go will give you more confidence in your discussion.
Don’t be a pushover. You may not be the most seasoned attorney, but your ideas should at least be considered. If the partner starts probing with questions or seems to think you’re on the wrong track, it’s likely you are. But don’t just fold. Explain why you think you’re right.
Be honest about your results. You have to be honest about your work, even if you know the partner isn’t going to like the outcome.
Say thank you for the work. And be sincere. Whatever part of the work sounds interesting, mention it. If it’s the dreaded document review, say thank you for getting to know the facts of the case better. If it’s research, that’s a bit easier. Think about what might interest you in the assignment and do your best to highlight the opportunity.
Ask about the next step. In some cases, the task is singular. But usually, that’s not the case. For example, if you do research, you can ask to draft a memorandum to the client or assist in drafting documents to be filed with a court. Figure out what step is next before your meeting and see if you can nab that assignment.
Follow up. This one is a judgment call. I know some attorneys who swear by follow up emails that outline what was discussed and highlight what their deliverables to the partner are going to be, along with deadlines. This can be great because it allows the partner a quick review to see if anything was miscommunicated or missed. This can be irritating to the partner. Ask your network beforehand what they think of the idea.