Billable time. Face time. Time management. For tens of thousands of new associates starting their first legal jobs this month, it’s all about time.
First order of business: Set your clocks from student time to lawyer time. For three years, law students schedule their days around classes and study—OK, and socializing. Burning the midnight oil may be appropriate for night owls in law school, but in practice it’s a different story.
Unfortunately, optimum time management isn’t instinctive for many new associates. For starters, billing time requires making a fairly big adjustment, says David L. Wolfe, a partner in the Chicago office of Gardner Carton & Douglas who gives a talk every fall to his firm’s new associates.
Wolfe says neophyte lawyers may not realize how critical it is to account for every minute—and to make sure they are working enough to meet expectations. When billing time, new lawyers need to try to understand the client’s point of view, says Carol Kanarek, a New York City attorney who works as a career counselor for lawyers. New lawyers often aren’t dealing directly with clients, she points out, so it’s easy to “forget that if they take 50 hours to write a memo, somebody’s going to have to pay for it.”
Before starting an assignment, ask the attorney in charge how much time is reasonable to spend, Kanarek says.
Dive in, Learn the Ropes
Initially, new associates should expect to put in long hours learning the ropes of an unfamiliar profession, no matter how well they did in law school, says Andrea “Bonnie” Saito, director of career services at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif. “It’s better to be willing to put in more hours initially, until you develop a system and understand the expectations,” Saito says.
The experts also emphasize the need to balance the constant pressure of a daily pile of work with longer-term priorities that will lead to career advancement. For example, keeping in touch with law school classmates and taking an active role in a bar association committee will likely lead to business development and future success, Saito says.
Although balancing time between short-term and long-term work is, Wolfe says, “the biggest dilemma,” new associates need to understand that it is they, rather than senior attorneys or clients, who are in charge of their careers. “Ultimately, they do control their own professional growth, and they need to seize that opportunity,” he says.
A committee of the ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Section is developing a program to help young attorneys improve time management and other skills. Key components of the program are mentoring new lawyers and offering books about basic expectations in law practice, says Vicki M. Huebner-Dummitt. An assistant dean at Chapman University School of Law in Orange, Calif., she chairs the committee, known as the Trans (short for transition) Team.
The team plans to publish a Web link accessible to student members of the section offering information from practicing lawyers about their daily lives, as well as an opportunity to get in touch for more advice.
And then there’s time needed for repetition—as in, young attorneys never learn it the first go-round. Senior lawyers dealing with new associates should expect to tell them something several times, since new associates often won’t understand or believe good advice when they first hear it, Wolfe says.
“They’re just going to miss most of it,” he says. “So it’s something you’ve just got to keep reminding them of. … I just think you need to do it multiple times, multiple ways.”