Thursday, June 25, 2009

evaluations; and further on the too casuals

On the "too casuals" post, I was trying to get across that you need to be cautious about slang, digs, curses - I don't think that is particularly radical.  It is one thing if you have a close working relationship with someone and you are in a fairly comfortable one on one situation, but it is another entirely when you don't know someone very well and you might do or say something they find offensive.  Case in point, which I think I've mentioned before, the religious client.  I worked with a GC who, as time went on, I learned was deeply religious.  Bible studies classes, Sunday school teacher, etc.  Very clean living.  Thus, I made an extra effort to avoid words phrases like "if the company takes this route you could get screwed," in favor of the more general "the company could face some penalties if you take this route."  In any event, I wouldn't say screwed to any client b/c it is not professional and I don't know some of them well enough to throw that out there.  I was just saying that you should be cautious.  In this precarious legal market, why give people reasons to question your judgment?  What is the big deal with remembering that this is a professional environment and you should always keep that in mind?  
Some of you may be getting to a mid-point during your summer associate terms.  Have you received input?  I like firms that provide a mid-point evaluation. If you haven't received input on your work product, etc., ask the HP or recruiting coordinator if you could schedule a time.  If there's little things that can be fixed -- like proofing better -- that is something you could hear about now - rather than at the end of the summer, which can be cured in subsequent work product.  I know most of us don't like to hear criticism, but it is useful for this job and in the future.  If there's something you disagree with - like you followed one line of thinking because the assigning partner put it in the work assignment form - then go ahead and explain that, calmly.  Don't be overly defensive, however.  Show that you want to learn and take the opportunity to see how you can improve.  If you've had a memo marked up - see what the reviewer did - take out excess wording; break it into sections to have it read better; re-organize it?  Take some time to assess how a more experienced person improved your work product.  

Btw, HP is a bit nostalgic.  I think we are coming up next month on the first anniversary of HP's Office blog.   What shall we do to acknowledge this occasion?  

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the too casuals

Hello all. Sorry I've been away for a bit.  Some work things came up, of course, I am busy with our summer program, and I just didn't have anything on my mind to write about.

One thing that came to mind that I wanted to mention is over-familiarity.  In today's more casual society, sometimes we tend to assume that a seemingly less hierarchical work environment or even one when, say, partners seem young and hip and not stiff, means that we can really let our hair down, speak as if we are speaking to our pals, and even joke in a way that we think is funny but might actually offend.  Case in point:  my friend, we will call her Partner Jennifer, had to leave for an appointment.  She ran into junior associate Ellen.  They briefly discussed something and then when Ellen saw Jennifer was leaving, Ellen made a comment about "oh I guess you don't have a lot of work to do since you get to leave early." Or something to that effect.  Similar thing happened to another person I know.   Jennifer - who is a youngish, approachable partner - was really annoyed.  First, Ellen has no idea where Jennifer is going. Jennifer may be off to a client meeting. Second, Jennifer has 15 years of experience, including long nights, weekends, holiday work.  Jennifer has busted her tush and is entitled to respect, particularly from junior attorneys.  Even if Jennifer is going home - that really is not for Ellen to comment on.  Ellen hasn't even proven herself yet.

Thus the long and short of it is to remember - and I know I've mentioned this before - these people are not your pals.  They may seem approachable and laid back but there is still a hierarchy and you need to respect that.   Be careful how casual your conversations may be.  Watch the "digs," and watch the casual language - cursing, rough slang, etc.  I've been in interviews where people throw out the F-bomb as if it is a "hello."  This gets you marked way down - actually off totally - in my book. It is about judgment.  These days, we are very sensitive to judgment red flags. Remember it is a buyer's market now.  Show us your terrific work, your potential client handling skills. Keep the slang and snide comments for another day. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

research project

Good question there from the person who asked what to do if you've got a research assignment and, despite best efforts, come up with zilch.  I thought F-3's response was right on.  In fact, the first thing I was going to say was addressed by F-3:  ask the firm's library staff.  They are usually very knowledgeable and helpful.  In fact, in my experience, befriending the library staff can really do wonders for you...they can track down all sorts of information, particularly hard to find treatises and other things like newly released laws and cases - they often have their own network of fellow librarians and (like a good concierge) can swap and trade things and call in their favors to get you what you need.  So, again, the old adage here that you should treat the office staff well - be courteous, appreciative and pleasant -- will help you shine @ the workplace.  

I've had mixed results with calling Lexis helpline.  I don't find the representatives to be that substantively helpful.  But, if you want to see if a particular search will wield any results or something like that, or formulating a search, then they can do that for you.  My preference is to find someone "on the ground" who can help get what I need or direct me.

I liked F-3's suggestion that you should keep track of how you have researched.  Oftentimes, partner X may ask: "did you look here?"  If you've been in fifty different databases or made 20 phone calls, you may not remember once you are on the spot.  Keep a notepad with you various searches and how you went about it.  That will make you look prepared and organized and will inspire in partner X confidence in your abilities to proceed with the assignment - even if there seems to be no answer.  Sometimes there is no answer.

Case in point, as a junior lawyer, I once spent hours researching something.  Couldn't find it, despite my best efforts.  I finally saw a contact name and called that person.  When I reached him and explained what I was looking for, he said "you won't find it because we never issued it, and here's why."  Light bulb in my head goes off.  Ugh, why didn't I think to call this person earlier?  Part of the problem is that (at least in my law school) we were trained to seek the answers on our own  - not to reach out to others lest there be an honor code violation or something.  All answers supposedly could be found by doing one's one research by oneself.  But in the real world, that is not how it always works.  Oftentimes, the fastest answer can be found by reaching out -- to other colleagues in the office, to staff at relevant governmental organizations, to court staff, etc.  Now, I always say to follow up and confirm whatever they are saying with your own research.  But, it is often a great place to start -- or a good mid-way point to confirm your own research or help you understand something in your research.  Law is not a solitary enterprise, it can and should be collaborative - without revealing confidences of course.

So, follow F-3's advice - by all means, talk to the library staff.  Detail for partner X the steps you have taken and ask for any further suggestions.  Show that you are organized and that you have taken initiative.  If you are unsure if certain "reaching out" contacts are allowed - on a no names basis that is, ask the assigning attorney.  "I've done a, b, and c and wanted to confirm that no further changes have taken place.  Would it be ok if I called Y on a no names basis to ask?"  

Hope all is going well this summer.