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. 


I want to go home to LA said...

HP -

This question regards 3L OCI. During my 2L OCI I interviewed with a mid-size (50 lawyers) firm in LA. I received a call-back interview, but no offer (the summer class consists of only 1 SA). I managed to get a summer associate position with a firm in another major market. But, I really enjoyed my experience with X firm. Also, I want to head back to LA after graduating. Does the fact that I already went through a call-back with X firm mean I should forget about re-applying. Or, is it worth my time getting in contact with the hiring partner at the firm who did my OCI interview and called me back to LA?

Anonymous said...

When are law firms going to start hiring for entry-level folks again? I graduated in 2008 and STILL don't have a job. I have been working contract jobs, but for purposes of getting hired for a permanent position, this is considered NO experience. Work is starting to pick up and I do see firms hiring, but the only job postings out there are for attorneys with 3+ years of experience. As another attorney already explained to me, firms are only going to hire when it is an absolute necessity. I know Biglaw firms are up against the wall, but several medium and small firms are beyond busy. They want to hire but can only hire people with experience because they don't have the time or resources to waste on hiring an "entry-level" type associate.

Someone told me (half-joking, half serious) that we are part of the bastard class of 2008 and 2009. As a result, we will never get hired as an attorney at a law firm because we aren't getting any experience during the crucial years after law school AND the work we are getting as contract attorneys will potentially conflict us out of future jobs. Law firms have no reason to hire us; we have no experience but we are working on projects and with other firms making potential conflicts an issue. If a law firm had a choice between someone with no experience but two-year's worth of potential conflicts AND a freshly minted 2010 law graduate with no experience but no conflicts, the firm is always going to take the law graduate.

At first I laughed off this notion, but as unemployment dragged on from months to over a year I am getting worried. I know we are now operating under a new economic climate and so law firms are adjusting accordingly, but will law firms also adjust their expectations? I was told that if you can't get your first job after one year after graduation you are marked as unemployable. Firms will avoid you because there is obviously something wrong with you since you don't have a job. Will firms and other HPs like yourself change your perceptions of recent grads struggling to find jobs?

It's funny because I go to some networking events sponsored by the local bar association and older attorneys keep saying they don't know how anyone can find a job as a new associate in this market. I'm just hoping they are being genuine with their comments and they will remember how hard it is when they start hiring attorneys again.

Anonymous said...

RIP HP blog?

Anonymous said...

What happened to the other two writers on this blog, GP and Different Track guy?

fat kid said...

I want to go home to LA:

To be honest, you should know the answer to that question without asking. If the reason for you not getting an offer was that there was only 1 SA spot and they really liked you, they probably would have called you or otherwise encouraged you to re-apply for a permanent position. Otherwise they're probably not interested.

Either way you have nothing to lose by applying to them directly. I'm assuming you have a limited # of OCI slots so applying for a screening interview with them is probably a waste of a slot. I'd contact them directly since they probably remember you and if they liked you enough, they'll give you a callback. I'd send your info to the recruiting coordinator though, not the HP.

CB said...

HP -

As usual, this is a useful post. Thanks for your blog. I'm a junior associate who has been following your advice and as a result survived a round of deep layoffs.

This topic is actually very important I thought I would contribute my strategy for research. I think junior associates should always reach out to others much sooner in the process. The way I see it, there are others who know better than we mere lawyers how to find the right resources and how to search those resources.

First, once I receive an assignment, I spend about 10 - 15 minutes to see if any handy sources in my office - statutes, rules, etc. - discuss the topic. This will usually give me a sense of how time intensive the undertaking will be (i.e. is this a quick task that I can finish quickly and without help or a lengthy task?). It may also give me the key buzz words that I can use thoughout the task.

Second, I reach out to the library and give them the topic and, if I have them, the buzz words. The librarians can usually point me to a treatise or two that will give me something.

If the treatise has a case or two, then I can take the case cite and use "find and print" from Westlaw or Lexis to retrieve the case for free and then "shephardize" it to figure out other cases discussing the topic.

If I'm still struggling, then I'll call the Lexis or Westlaw hotline and ask them to do searches.

If I still don't have anything, then I can detail all the steps that I took in an email to the supervisor and have the confidence that I've thoroughly reserached the topic and just haven't found anything.