Trust is key to every lawyer’s success. Until your name is on the marquee of a white shoe firm, trust is earned not given. At the associate level, you must convince your law firm’s partners to trust you and your work so that they keep giving you opportunities.
So how do you do that? Since lawyers spend so much of their time writing, I recommend improving the quality of your written work as a path to deepening your trust relationship. In other words, nothing builds trust better than consistently producing correct, high-quality, timely work.
Here are seven tips for doing just that:
- Get Ready to Learn
Partners are really depending on you when they task you with a research assignment—your findings can determine the direction of the case, so you must get it right. Use secondary sources to gain an understanding of the topic. Work with research librarians to get a feel for what you should be finding or to confirm what you have found. And use legal research tools such as CARA to check your research to make sure that you’ve addressed the most relevant law. If you miss referencing a major case, your reputation will suffer.
- Check Your Work
The cases that you cite are the backbone of your work, and partners trust that the cases stand for the propositions for which you cited them. Trust will evaporate if you either cite a case that turns out to be overturned or if you misstated the legal proposition that served as the basis for your case. Using Keyciting or Shepardizing is a critical final step in ensuring that you deliver a document that others can trust.
- Touch Base Occasionally
Partners hate it when associates receive a project, don’t ask any questions, and then scurry off to hole up in their offices for days on end without contact. They don’t know whether you’re on the right track or whether you’re working on their assignment at all. Emerge from your office every so often to let the partner know what you’re finding and to ask follow up questions. This helps ensure that you’re not wasting any time.
- Always Proofread and Spellcheck
Be meticulous in presenting your work. Unclear writing, abundant typos, and incorrect citations will make other lawyers think that you are careless which, in turn, can hurt your reputation. Even one sloppy project can destroy trust—and you may not get a second chance. Use tools like American Legal Style for PerfectIt to ensure that your writing is error-free. There’s a free trial, so try it once. You’ll be surprised how much your work can improve.
- Don’t Be a Perfectionist
It is better to produce B+ work product on time than to produce A+ work product late. That’s because in law, we live and die by deadlines. If you cannot be trusted to meet deadlines, you cannot be trusted to be a part of the team. So use calendars to prompt you to start projects on time so that you finish on time. Calendars will also help you to visualize your workload so that you can plan better, stay focused, and, if necessary, negotiate extensions.
- Become the Expert
If you have done all of the research for a case, other lawyers will expect you to be a go-to resource on that case. You should be able to state your client’s issue in 100 words or less and have a single line ready for what each case is about. If a partner asks you such questions, you should be able to immediately answer with confidence. In other words, it’s unacceptable to say that you have to do the research again simply because you are disorganized. Instead, always save, organize, and manage your work so that you can use it again at any time. Use tech tools such as Evernote that will help you find and report on details from your research without having to slowly shuffle through a stack of papers.
- Always Ask for Feedback
After you have submitted your work, follow up to make sure that it met your partner’s needs. Seek feedback on your work and then implement the advice. Keep in mind that you will make mistakes at times, and you will receive less-than-glowing responses to your work. How you act in response to your mistakes will help determine whether you will be trusted with another chance. Do not abuse the opportunities that partners give you by ignoring their advice or reacting defensively. Instead, graciously accept and implement feedback to show that you are a worthy investment of time and opportunity.
Ivy B. Grey is the author of American Legal Style for PerfectIt and a Senior Attorney at Griffin Hamersky LLP. She’s been named as a Rising Star in the New York Metro Area for three consecutive years. Ivy received her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center where she was Chief Notes & Comments Editor of the Houston Business & Tax Law Journal. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Ivy spent nearly a decade working in public relations and advertising.