LegalJob talked with a big firm associate this week about understanding partner expectations in the context of preparing a memo. The partner was generally pleased with the memo but wondered why there was no conclusion provided. In other words, based on the law and the client’s facts, what was the advice the firm should provide to the client. The associate did not realize that the partner wanted him to formulate a conclusion, especially given the time constraints under which the memo was assigned and due.
The lesson here is that there is no way to know what a particular partner wants for a particular assignment unless you ask. Generally, it does not make sense to assume you know. Think of the partner like your client. Before you begin an assignment, make sure you know:
► How much time is reasonable for you to spend (aka bill) on the project?
It is very possible that the project will require more time for you to get up to speed but you can always decide not to bill that amount of time once you have this information. This is the first chance to communicate with the partner if you believe the time allotted is too short. You may have to wait until you get into the weeds before knowing whether the time is reasonable. To avoid misunderstanding and disappointment, communicate your status with the partner regularly so he or she is not left wondering.
A couple questions to ask here. When do you (partner) want the finished product internally? What is your deadline? See if you can find out the partner’s deadline so you know how much cushion you have to revise your work product in time to meet the real deadline. Again, another chance to communicate with the partner if you believe the deadline is too tight. You still may have to meet the deadline but perhaps your setting of reasonable expectations will mean you can provide an informal memo (if appropriate) to save time.
► Work product.
Ask if the partner wants a formal memorandum for the client or something less. The partner may want a document to refer to at a meeting or on a call. The more information you have, the better so you can focus on substance and be sure that you are providing the information in the appropriate (based on partner needs and preferences) format. If you are not clear on something, it is probably better to ask now. If possible, ask an associate who has worked with this partner before about his style and preferences so you have a better chance of producing a product that the partner believes is useful.
► What issues you are to address.
The partner usually has an idea ahead of time of the issues to be resolved. Why guess? Get his or her list and you can decide whether to cover more but at a minimum you want to make sure the ones on the list are covered.