It may seem like receiving an assignment is a pretty simple and passive task. For the most part, that’s actually true. However, there are a few keys to making your life a lot easier down the road.
1) The first key to receiving assignments is being prepared. Always keep a pen and pad handy, especially when visiting an attorney’s office. You never know when a short visit will lead to an assignment.
2) The next key is making sure you do the right assignment. When receiving an assignment, write it all down. If the attorney uses an acronym ask what it means. If you are uncomfortable asking, write down the acronyms or words you don’t understand and immediately go and look them up and ask another summer associate you trust if you still need some clarity. If you simply can’t find the information, find an attorney at the firm (preferably in the same group as the assigning attorney) who you trust and ask him or her.
3) Learn to ask these questions to the assigning attorney:
a) When would you like the final product? This is extremely important. Unfortunately, during the nervous moments of receiving an assignment, many summer associates forget to request this simple but important piece of info.
b) In what form would you like the final project? (memo, outline, etc?) You don’t want to draft a long memo only to find out the attorney wanted a quick verbal answer. It’s rare but it happens.
c) How many billable hours do you expect me to spend on this project? Even though you are only a summer associate, you need to get used to the fact that your time costs money. If you spend too many billable hours on an assignment, the client’s bill gets bigger and bigger. Later on, if the client’s bill is a bit out of line with their expectations (or the partner’s expectations) the partner may be forced to cut some of the billable hours so that the client will not faint from receiving an outrageous bill. Those cut hours become “wasted” time. Time that you spent working on the project that the firm isn’t making money from…which in turn will lead the partner to inquire (maybe just to himself or herself) why you aren’t more efficient. Find out the billable hour expectations and make an attempt to keep close to it. If you find you will need to go over, you can alert the attorney ahead of time.
d) Do you have a sample I can view? Every attorney has his or her personal preferences and pet peeves. The sample will show you how THIS attorney likes the final product. The more you can mimic the format of the sample, the better you look and the less your final product will have to be altered. Additionally, many firms have a wealth of resources. Samples are a great way to insure that you don’t recreate the wheel.
4) Summarize and Confirm. There is nothing worse than doing the wrong assignment. After the assigning attorney has explained the assignment, very briefly, summarize what you believe the assignment to be and ask if you are correct. You can correct any miscommunication or misunderstanding immediately, rather than later when you have spent precious time working on the wrong assignment.
Following these simple keys and you will be a master of receiving assignments this summer!