Finally, summer is upon us and if you recently completed your 1L or 2L year, you may be gearing up for quite the summer ahead! A season of no classes, an opportunity to reclaim the social life that your busy law school semesters absorbed, and if you have a summer job coming up, the possibility of earning an income.
If you’re reading this post with a summer job on the horizon, you may be wondering what steps you should take when you ultimately receive your first summer assignment, or if you’ve already started your summer job, perhaps you’ve completed an assignment but found yourself a bit lost during the process. If you find yourself in either of these categories, don’t stress! Legal assignments can be extremely complex, and you are by no means alone in your concerns about whether you can execute them correctly.
Considering these concerns, I’ve put together this quick guide with a couple of questions you can ask your assigning attorney this summer. Keep in mind that this is not a foolproof guide, but just a couple of tips that have helped me through the years.
1. What is the background of the issue?
When you receive an assignment, you should absolutely ask about the background of the issue. Although you may only be tasked with a small piece of a major assignment, for example, researching one issue for an appellate brief, it is important to understand the who, what, and why of the big picture. Oftentimes attorneys who already understand the big issue, may simply overlook breaking down all the details for you. So, be sure to ask them to walk you through the background so that you can have a clear picture before completing your assignment.
2. Are there any templates available?
In the legal world, a good template is a lifesaver! If you are tasked with preparing a legal document such as a motion or even drafting a letter, a template can help you to gain a better understanding of the document you are drafting, prepare the document in a format that is acceptable to your employer, but most importantly, a good template can save you a ton of time! So, before you get started on any assignment, find out whether a template exists that is on point or similar to the document you have been assigned to draft. There is no reason to recreate the wheel.
3. How long should I be spending on research?
If you have been given a research assignment, it is helpful to know beforehand how much time you should be spending on research. This is especially important if you have to bill your time, and you don’t have unlimited hours to fall into the rabbit holes of a difficult research topic. Having an estimated timeframe can help you to plan your research better and to stay on track with the deadline for your assignment. Therefore, be sure to find out your estimated research time. Your assigning attorney and ultimately the firm’s clients will be grateful that you did.
4. What is the deadline?
Believe it or not, oftentimes an assigning attorney will give you work to do without explicitly giving you a deadline. They may generally say there’s “no rush” or “just get it back at some point next week.” However, these two vague statements can quickly change into “hey can you get me that assignment back by close of business today?” Trust me, you do not want to be caught in that scenario, and you don’t have to be if you ask for a clear deadline for your assignment.
A deadline will help you to prioritize all the projects you are working on simultaneously, it gives you an idea of how long you should be taking on a project, and it helps you to plan your work and communicate better.
5. Can we schedule time for feedback?
Getting feedback on every assignment is extremely important! This is something that some attorneys may give you naturally after their review but oftentimes that will not be the case. Your quality of work may have been really good, and they saw no need to go over it with you or there may have been a ton of room for improvement, but the attorney just fixed it on their own and moved forward. Either way, you will not know how well you did unless you get feedback on your assignment.
Therefore, instead of leaving the ball in their court to schedule, be proactive and ask whether you can schedule some time on their calendar for feedback after they’ve completed their review. Your assigning attorney may be impressed at how proactive you are, and this practice will only help you to improve your skills based on the feedback you receive.
Good luck this summer!
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