Seven questions every associate should ask — part two

As discussed in part one of this post, the biggest reason associates fail is not because of poor work ethic, lack of technical skills, or personality differences. Instead, it is that associates do not understand what is expected. Understanding expectations is a big part of meeting them.

This post continues with advice from big firm partners relating to working on projects, researching, and presenting conclusions to help ensure associates avoid this common pitfall.

Working on projects

4.) Do you want to know the status of the assignment even if there is no news?

This was a repeat question that also came up in the context of the day-to-day category. So, take note associates. Partners provided a unanimous “yes” to this question. They generally prefer the associate check in at least every couple of days, maybe more depending on the project. And related a majority of partners advised that associates should not fail to respond within a reasonable time to a call or an e-mail from partners requiring response during work hours.

5.) In all cases would you rather the associate take the extra time to make the work product “perfect” or stick to the deadline (assuming perfect is not possible by the deadline)?

The general consensus among the partners was that the quality of the work product should reflect the opinion that the associate wants the partner to have of him/her.  Deadlines can be malleable; quality work is not.

There was consensus that the associates always give them their best product. They were clear that associates should never expect them to take their time to edit your written work for grammar, syntax or punctuation. They also don’t expect to do their thinking for them.

They placed the full burden on the associate to tell them as soon as possible if a deadline is unrealistic but noted the deadline may be binding if it’s the client’s deadline.


6.) In all situations, would you prefer the associate spend as much time as it takes to get the right answer?

Only a handful of partners said they wanted the associates to spend as much time as it takes. A majority wanted approval before doing that and noted that associates should ask this question at the outset of the project.

However, on the subject of billing, a majority of partners said they want the associates to bill all of the time spent including learning time because they want to know how long an assignment really takes. They expect that there will be some time written off that relates to getting up to speed, but they need to make that judgment.

Presenting conclusions

7.) How should the associate present his conclusions?

A majority of partners preferred an executive one-page summary followed by formal, detailed memo. All agreed that as with most other things, the associate should simply ask the partner’s preference at the initial meeting.  Many noted that they usually like to discuss the answer before a lot of time is spent (and potentially wasted) commemorating it.   All partners said they prefer associates write clearly and concisely (and be careful not to present ancillary issues that are not necessary to the ultimate recommendation).

All partners agreed that associates should not be afraid to tell them what they think and provide recommendations. “Stop being so tentative,” was the advice from many.

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