Summer is here, bringing the opportunity to take your legal writing skills from school to the workplace. Whether you’re working for a judge, a government agency, a public interest legal provider, or a private practice law firm, you’ll be writing this summer. In your legal writing course, you probably wrote at least one memo and one trial or appellate brief. The purpose of any legal writing course is to prepare you for practice, so you can expect to receive similar assignments over the summer. If you work in Biglaw, memos are inevitable. At smaller firms or public agencies, you might see trial briefs as well. It’s unlikely that any employer will entrust an appellate brief to a summer associate, but you never know. In addition to these familiar documents, you may be assigned tasks you haven’t done before, like pleadings, discovery requests (or responses) or jury instructions. Don’t panic! Follow these tips:
You’ll typically be given an assignment in a face-to-face meeting with an assigning attorney. If you’re summoned to such a meeting, be prepared to listen carefully, take notes, and ask questions. Nothing makes a worse impression than a summer associate who is unprepared to take notes. If you show up without pen and paper, the assigning attorney will offer these to you — and she’ll remember that she had to do so.
Get clear instructions
You may think it’s your assigning attorney’s responsibility to direct you, but it’s your responsibility to make sure you understand what’s expected. Your assigning attorney is likely to be managing a heavy caseload; despite good intentions, he may not be particularly attentive to informing you about your small piece of his complex puzzle. For any assignment you’re given, make sure you know the following when you leave the assignment meeting.
- Factual background of the matter
- Procedural background of the matter
- Jurisdiction where you’re expected to research
- Related documents and files, including prior filings or research
- Work product expected of you (memo? client letter? brief?)
- Amount of time to spend, especially if it’s billable
- Due date
Request a sample for any document you’re asked to draft. This is essential for documents unfamiliar to you, and helpful even for something familiar, like a memo. A sample can help you with objective elements, like the firm’s preferred formatting or implementation of local court filing rules, and subjective elements, like style. But be sure to use samples wisely.
Consider your audience
Think about every assignment from the perspective of the assigning attorney. Are you delivering value? Are you making his life easier? Are you providing a document she can sign off on? Will he want to work with you again? Will she be impressed and give you a good evaluation? Your goal is to get a permanent job offer, and every assignment you complete is a step closer to – or further from – that goal.
Know where to turn for help
If you hit a roadblock, are unsure how to proceed, or need clarification on the assignment, whom should you ask? The assigning attorney is an obvious choice, but you should be aware of other, possibly more receptive, options. Consider approaching a senior associate working on the same matter, a member of the summer associate committee (if your employer has one), or an assigned mentor.
This is a fundamental rule of professionalism. You must meet any and all assignment deadlines. Period. You’re developing a reputation over the summer. Make it a reputation for reliability. To stay on track, you should impose your own personal deadlines. For example, if your memo is due by noon on July 15, you need to set your own deadlines for completing research, drafting the memo, and editing it. The time management skills you’ve (hopefully) developed in law school can be helpful here. Unlike law school, you may have only a single assignment to worry about. Like law school, it’s probably going to take longer than you think.
What if an emergency arises that will cause you to miss a deadline? First, it had better be a true emergency, along the lines of grievous bodily injury or death. Second, let your supervising attorney know ASAP.
Hand in your best work
Always. Never submit a rough draft. Your reader will presume that what you’ve submitted shows your best effort, so ensure that it does. Consistently presenting your best work is crucial to achieving your goal of post-graduation employment; unlike economic factors or the firm’s hiring needs, the quality of your work is within your control.
Have a productive, successful – and fun — summer!
Want to hear more of Doretta’s advice on writing in your summer job? Tune into the podcast, Writing Effectively in Your Summer Legal Job.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- How Being a Law Student and a Functional Human Don’t Have to Be Mutually Exclusive
- From Objective to Persuasive Writing, Part One: The Law
- From Objective to Persuasive Writing, Part Two: Facts
- Dos and Don’ts for Using Sample Documents in Legal Writing
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