Associates in the Trenches

Time Sensative

Meeting Deadlines Matters Every Day and at Performance Review Time

Posted Jan 8, 2006 3:48 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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The satisfaction of making lists largely comes from crossing off items, says Danielle J. Malody, a litigation associate who always writes out daily tasks on a yellow legal pad placed next to her computer.

Besides, says the Phoenix lawyer, the habit helps her stay on track with deadlines.

“My approach to things, whether it’s a rule or a deadline, is it’s there for a reason, and you should meet it,” says Malody, a seventh-year associate. “I know that people are relying on me and, ultimately, clients are relying on me. I think it’s a professional and personal responsibility to meet deadlines.”

Sounds reasonable enough, right? While arguably few associates would admit to disagreeing with her philosophy, there are those who just can’t seem to coordinate tasks with timing.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t something that partners appreciate. “People want to know if they can trust you and that you won’t leave them holding the bag,” says Mark E. Lowes, a Houston partner who heads up his firm’s attorney training and development team.

Meeting your deadlines often leads to more billable hours, he says, as well as better raises and bonuses. And the issue can also show up on performance reviews. “You see associates who get review comments like, ‘Gosh, they always meet every deadline,’ and the other thing you see on reviews is, ‘I never know if they’re going to make the deadline,’ ” Lowes says.

That’s why Lowes includes “meeting deadlines” on his list of 10 tips for a successful practice that he presents while training new associates. Lowes also suggests to associates that if a blown deadline seems like a possibility, the associate should let the partner know as soon as possible and ask for an extension.

To drive home the importance of making deadlines, Lowes says he asks associates about the people they go to when they need a problem solved. The most frequent answer is the person who “listens, is responsive and gets the job done,” he explains. “I say, ‘It’s no different for partners.’ People who get back to you on time are the ones you want to work with.”

IN PRAISE OF CLOCK-WATCHING

Vijay K. Toke agrees. the San Francisco litigation associate believes that his promptness has led to more assignments.

“Partners trust you more and you get more work, which is good,” says the fifth-year associate. “Early in my career, I was told that as an associate your clients are your partners, and if you keep partners happy you keep cli­ents happy.”

After Toke receives an assignment, he tries to get a sense of what his goals are for the project. He sometimes takes notes on the major points, especially if he’s assigned to write a difficult brief.

“It doesn’t take a lot of time to do,” he says, “but it gets me focused.” If it’s a large project with a tight deadline, Toke turns off his phone and e-mail. “I have to hole myself up in my office or grab a conference room and just hide for a couple of days,” he says.

Toke says that he often works better under tight deadlines because he procrastinates less. But he also enjoys getting things in a day early or so. And, like the partners who prefer working with as­­sociates who meet deadlines, this associate appreciates that quality in more senior lawyers.

“A couple of partners I work for like to work ahead of time, and it’s such a joy to have that kind of situation,” Toke says, mentioning a recent assignment he turned in early. The partner signed off on it the next morning, shortly after she arrived at the office. She didn’t have any revisions, he says, and they were able to file it without a mad dash to the court. “When people do things at the last minute it delays things, and there will be panic,” he adds. “That is conducive to mistakes happening.”

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