When you bill in 6 minute increments, time takes on a very different meaning. There is a need to be a strong biller and with that, a push for efficiency.
Deal with Time Entries Daily. It can be tempting to wait until the weekly billing deadline to enter and close time, but do so when it is fresh in your mind and avoid having to go back through your emails and calendar to remember what you did that day.
Don’t Wait Until Your Annual Review. Your annual self assessment takes place every year and without fail it is at the most inconvenient time. Save yourself time at the end of the billable year by keeping a running list of accomplishments and draft responses to questions you know will be asked.
Batch It. Context switching takes time so group similar tasks together for a dedicated period of time with no interruptions. For example, respond to emails for 20 minutes, marking those that need more than a quick email response. Then turn fully to a client project without looking at your inbox.
To quote great 90s cartoons, knowledge is power and that includes knowing what pitfalls to avoid to be a great associate.
Blindly Following Forms. Forms are a great starting point, but never assume that the form you are starting from is 100% accurate or appropriate for what you need to use it for. Check any statutes or laws referenced. Ask the author of that form if that is a good starting point. Use forms to build your knowledge and your own forms that you can rely on.
Missing Internal Deadlines. Clients have deadlines but so do partners and assigning attorneys. Make sure when one of them tells you that they need to review something by a certain date that you get it to them by that date. If circumstances arise where you do not think you can meet that internal deadline, make sure you communicate that with the partner or assigning attorney as early as possible.
Repeating Mistakes. No one expects a junior associate to know it all but it is expected that junior associates are continually learning. Learn from your mistakes, make note of them and do not repeat them.
Career Contessa Power Moves Happy Hour with founder Lauren McGoodwin promoting her new book Power Moves. Halfway through this great read and already have lost track of how many times I have thought “this author gets me!”
Practicing in Big Law requires a lot of things, but here are 3 key skills that span all practice groups:
Self Advocacy. Know how to clearly state your position. Be able to explain why you did what you did, why you are the best person to staff and why you deserve what you want.
Delegation. Know how and when to effectively delegate tasks. Your time and skill set is valuable. It can be easy to want to do everything yourself. It can be great for hours to do everything yourself. You cannot and should not do everything yourself, that is why big law has the structure it has. Learning how to effectively delegate will help you build the practice you want.
Receiving and Processing Tough Feedback. A senior associate once told me, if I give you constructive criticism it’s because I care about your career- If I didn’t care, I would just let you make mistakes and never get better. It can hurt to get feedback, but learning how to receive and respond with appreciation will get you far in this job. Further, processing that feedback in a constructive manner is also important. Do not ruminate for too long. Learn the lesson, accept the punches and move on.
The Skinner Box is an operant conditioning chamber used to study animal behavior, named for B.F. Skinner’s rat lever experiment on operant conditioning. Through operant conditioning, a person forms an association between a behavior and a consequence- for example: push lever, get food. Or take an example from Big Law, review due diligence documents, bill take, make money, repeat.
That monotony can lead to mistakes and frustration with Big Law life. One reason I enjoy being in Big Law is no day, no project, no client is ever the same. To help make sure the day to day does not feel like a Skinner Box, here are some helpful tips:
Mix It Up. Look for different projects. Work with different partners. If you are reviewing 300 contracts based on the same form, switch up your physical location every 20 contracts. Novelty will help keep you out of the box.
Emphasize Problem Solving. Approach tasks like a problem solver and not just a task doer.
Muse Issues Together. The rat may have been alone in the Skinner Box, but you are not. Talk through the project with someone on your team. By involving others, you bring energy and life to the project.