Recently, a friend of mine was complaining about an associate. My friend had a big filing and a junior associate was assisting him. The associate was generally doing an OK job for the tasks assigned. But on filing day when things were, of course, somewhat harried (and friend getting ready to head out on a business trip the next day), associate was suddenly gone for a while at an extended lunch while friend was trying to give instructions. Friend said to me, "what is the deal with this younger generation?" Going out to lunch on a filing day? Would you do that?" Friend was getting frustrated that friend, as senior lawyer and under a lot of pressure, couldn't get past the voice mail/email in an effort to find the lawyer. The lawyer hadn't indicated that he had a client lunch he couldn't get out of (in fact, I think I spotted friend with his friend at lunchtime). The lawyer hadn't even told senior lawyer that he would be out. He just was out. And my friend needed to discuss things with junior lawyer so the closing could get done. So, at the end of the day, my friend thinks of junior lawyer as someone who is not entirely dependable, not committed to the job, especially when there is a crisis. My lawyer friend even remarked that during this process, young lawyer seemed to be complaining that young lawyer had to stay late. In this economy! Complaining. NOOOOOOOO!
Anyway, this is a small example but I thought a good one. Your actions have consequences. You want to act in a way that people remember you as a solid, reliable, "go to" person. If my senior friend has choices, senior friend is probably going to give work to another associate who may be more committed. Thus, junior lawyer will have fewer hours and run the risk of layoff target.
Do I think you should starve for BigLAW? Of course not, but you can run out quickly and let the person you are working with know. Or bring something you can heat and eat quickly. There's many solutions. A big filing, closing, or project is not a time for you to be out gallivanting with your friends. Yes, you have to cancel plans sometimes. Treat this like the ER -- when the docs have car crash victims coming in -- they drop and focus - at least on TV. Do you see them stop for lunch? Eat a granola bar and move on. Remember, you want to impress that you are committed, and that you take ownership. OWN your projects - even if you are the junior one of the totem pole. Commit to see things through the end.