No substitute for doing good work

LegalJob was recently asked about the key to being a successful associate.  The question and response (both below) were posted in today's Monday mailbag.

Q:  What does LegalJob advise that I should focus on in addition to meeting my firm's billable hour requirements?  I am a mid-level associate at [big law firm].  I meet my billable hours requirements but I am concerned because, compared to my peers, I don't spend too much time at the office participating in firm activities because I have a new born at home.

LegalJob:  Good question.  As an aside, LegalJob has advised in other posts about possible activities an associate can engage in over and above what is required (e.g., participate in firm leadership, mentor younger folks, seek opportunities to speak, publish articles, etc.).  These other activities can be helpful, however, an associate's first, second, and third priority should be on doing good work.  So to your question, producing excellent work is what you should focus on, especially since your time is limited. It seems obvious but many folks do not appreciate the fact that consistently producing good work is what can distinguish you from others come partner time or when partners are assigning work.  The other stuff is just gravy.

Here are some tips for producing excellent work product:

► Take the time to get it technically right.

  • Your ultimate conclusion is not likely as important as making sure your deliverable is well reasoned and covers the relevant issues based on current law.
  • Start from the beginning.
    • Start with the baby case -- a simple example that could illustrate your point (assume simple facts and then build from there).
    • Assume your reader knows nothing that can help ensure that you rigorously cover the relevant issues.
  • Dig deep and make sure you understand (and have provided the reader sufficient detail about) the nuances of the law.

► Take the time necessary to present a well-written work product.

  • Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more (typos take away from the substance).
  • Consider using your final product (what you planned to submit to the partner) as your starting point (and edit that document until perfect).
  • Summarize your main points up front in the main document (or in an e-mail or separate document so the reader does not have to spend time searching).

► Make sure you work product is in the format that is consistent with partner/client preferences (ask before assuming).

  • How long?  Perhaps the reader wants two documents -- a short one and a longer one.
  • Consider providing an executive summary even if not requested.
  • Should the conclusion be stated up front?
  • Is a conclusion necessary (or just the legal test which can be applied to any fact pattern)?

Image courtesy of Andy Newson at