This basic but important question is unfortunately not one of the questions LegalJob is asked. In many cases, associates have no clue what to do but do not know to ask this question (and even who to ask) until late in their first year or even later.
There are many books on this topic which suggest that you should take this time to network (i.e., “Never Eat Alone”). This advice is certainly reasonable. Remember that networking includes reaching out to people in the firm, other associates are an option but so are partners who are really your “clients” in the first few years at the firm. LegalJob recommends that you ask partners if they have time to eat a quick sandwich perhaps even in the firm cafeteria or lunch room. Ten or fifteen minutes with the partner are enough to accomplish the gesture (and then you can go back to billing too).
You may also want to attend bar events in your area of practice which often take place during the lunch hour. This option allows you to network with other attorneys in your practice area and provides an opportunity to get up to speed on the current developments (which you can then report back to your firm, perhaps formally at a practice group lunch).
Another option is to eat at your desk and use the remaining time to work on articles you plan to write or speeches you plan to present. Writing and speaking regularly are important but many associates neglect these areas because there time is limited. Maximizing your lunch hour is one way to do it all.
The purpose of this post is to get you thinking about options and not necessarily pick a must do for everyone. Obviously there will be times where you may have to work through lunch to complete an assignment with a time deadline. However, the point of this post is that you should be contemplating ways to maximize this time for yourself and aim to mix it up from day to day. This lunch time is very valuable and there are many ways to make it work best for you.