Incoming Litigation Associate

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RaceJudicata

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Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby RaceJudicata » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:17 pm

In the same vein as the transactional associate thread...

What practices/habits did you develop during the first 6-12 months that you would recommend to incoming litigation juniors? Are there any specific practices that you wish you had known on day one?

hangtime813

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby hangtime813 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 1:53 pm

It would probably be good to try to get familiar with the local rules and maybe set up an excel to keep track of all the different matters/deadlines of your cases. Depending on the firm/practice, you may only be working on a few matters at a time or a ton.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby lolwat » Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:01 pm

I agree with the above -

know important local rules as much as possible (and local-local rules of specific judges)
track and know your deadlines - and that deadlines to get drafts up to senior people matter just as much as filing deadlines...

+ check for form / previously done samples of whatever you're working on. most of the time stuff has been done already and you can adapt the sample to whatever you need; not necessary to reinvent the wheel.

tyroneslothrop1

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby tyroneslothrop1 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 2:09 pm

I'd echo the above regarding the use of templates/prior filings. I've been in practice two years and always search the system for prior filings. Especially when first starting out, one can make themselves appear highly competent by locating a prior example of a particular filing. Review the example, think about how that case is similar/dissimilar to the instant case, and use as much of the example as appropriate. A note of caution, however, is to always consider whether has been an intervening change of law.

kykiske

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby kykiske » Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:01 pm

To echo the above posters, be sure to look at prior examples. But treat them as guides, and not as some "objectively" correct way to do something.

For instance, if you have to write a motion for summary judgment, it is perfectly acceptable to pull a template off your firm's document library. But be sure to change the case name and citation. Partners get somewhat irritated when they're stuck proofreading for that kind of stuff (i.e., they prefer only high level review). And absolutely shepardize all of the cited cases to make sure they remain good law.

Another common pitfall: do not overstate your knowledge. If you know the answer to something, say it. Yet if you do not know, or are unsure, say you do not know. It is quite embarrassing to give an answer (that you are unsure about), and then the partner later discovering you're wrong. If you do not know the answer, the most apt way to handle is to say something to this effect: "That's a good question. I do not know for sure. Let me pull the file and do some diligence. I'll get back to you shortly." You are more likely to maintain credibility when you're known as someone who is smart enough to know what you do not know, versus someone who just gives a B.S. answer.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Mon Sep 18, 2017 3:27 pm

When you get a new case/matter/assignment:
- Check the applicable Cal Rules of Court (you won't know which apply, so check them all
- Check the applicable local court rule(s)
- Check the judge's rules (if they have them)
- If you use Outlook, use the calendar system to set up deadlines and dates to make sure you know when things are due
- Build in deadlines things are due AND deadlines things are supposed to go to the senior associate/partner for review (as previous poster mentioned)
- Always Shepardize cases (yellow flags can be problematic too)
- Proofread

When you are asked for advice
- Don't act like you know everything, but don't be afraid to give an opinion (so long as it's based on some research/fact)

Figure out a way to keep on top of things
- More senior people will rely on you/put you on the spot to recite facts and/or dates things went out the door with a moment's notice. It's up to you to have a system in place to be able to recall/dig up pertinent info about cases you are staffed on immediately.
This includes everything from clients' phone numbers to facts in the complaint to the date a filing went out to how service was effectuated, etc.

Always get things in writing
- Whenever you interact with someone (especially opposing counsel), try to send a confirming email so you have it in writing if/when things go south
- Don't necessarily do this to people in your firm or you'll be known as a weirdo (unless the person you're working with is a known backstabber or something)

If you mess up, admit it -- quickly

Never bring up a problem with a case unless you have at least thought of some potential solutions
- In my experience, senior lawyers assume that if you bring up a problem without some sort of solution, you are just punting the problem their way. Even if your solution is dumb, they'll appreciate that you tried. Of course, if the problem needs IMMEDIATE attention, forget this advice.

Try not to get defensive
- People will be dicks, but it's usually not personal. Try to express real interest, and try not to repeat mistakes.

Don't repeat mistakes
- It's fine to make a mistake. Even twice in most cases. Just don't keep doing the same things. Some partners are insufferable and will have insane expectations that you can simply never meet. Most humans aren't like that, though. Just make sure to learn your lesson, move on, don't overanalyze, and progress.

Find a mentor
- Preferably someone who will keep things you tell them confidential

Never, ever, ever bitch about the firm to someone at the firm
- Even if everybody is doing it, it's never, ever a good idea. Trust me.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby gregfootball2001 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 4:46 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Always get things in writing
- Whenever you interact with someone (especially opposing counsel), try to send a confirming email so you have it in writing if/when things go south
- Don't necessarily do this to people in your firm or you'll be known as a weirdo (unless the person you're working with is a known backstabber or something)

For discrete longer-term assignments, especially ones given verbally, I found it helpful to email the assignment-giver with a quick summary. "Hey, just so I'm clear, you asked me to look at X (where X may be a paragraph of what I have to do). Is that right?" Especially if deadlines are a week or two out, and there are lots of things to do before you get to it, that summary could be a life-saver. But hey, anon says it could be weird, so YMMV.

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Slytherpuff

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Slytherpuff » Mon Sep 18, 2017 7:48 pm

Tagging. Thanks for this!

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby scandk » Mon Sep 18, 2017 9:49 pm

Tagging. Thanks for this!

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homestyle28

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby homestyle28 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 10:14 pm

Also, try to foster chill, it's in short supply in our profession, and in litigation that's dumb. You should know that almost everything you can botch can be fixed.
1) Mess up a filing? Call the clerk or filing help desk
2) Cite the wrong case? Draft an errata
3) Produce a doc you shouldn't have? Say so, and claw it back

When dealing with opposing counsel remember, everything goes better if you're not a dick. If you cut them some slack on something, they'll probably do the same down the line. There are lots of arbitrary dates, deadlines, etc. in litigation, knowing when to let something go is crucial.

Early on in a a new case, check the docket, can be informative about what's happened. Get admitted to the Fed courts in your area of practice and learn how to e-file.

Always review the applicable Fed Rules/Rules of procedure. Lots of older lawyers aren't aware of changes.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby papercutter » Tue Sep 19, 2017 1:01 am

In the short term:
- You have responsibility for details. Making sure the brief is cite-checked and conforms with the local rules? That's on you. Making sure we follow the right service of process rules for the state we're in? On you. Making sure we have the right materials in court, or at a depo? You. (Or the paras, which you're responsible for supervising). If you're not a detail person? Learn to be a detail person.
- Be an information sponge. You are going to be assigned to do both legal research and fact research (i.e. digging through documents, compiling chrons, etc.). Don't assume anything is a one-off. If the senior associates and junior partners working with you know what they are doing, they will try to keep you on the same issues so that you become the expert on certain subject areas. Then when those areas roll around for depos, major briefs, and trial, you're the point person.
- Especially if you're explicitly told to master a subject area. Dive into it, use your initiative, and think of new avenues to pursue. Check back periodically to make sure you're not going off the deep end, but in my experience it's great when an associate told to become an expert in an area really takes that to heart.
- Guard us on accuracy. This goes along with the details. You'll draft something that's accurate, then three people will edit it without looking at the underlying documents or cases. They'll all try to make the draft punchier and more persuasive. Is it still accurate? If it's not, fix it. If it's not fixable, flag it for whoever's above you. Our credibility is one of the most important assets we have. You have an important role protecting it.

In the medium term:

- Have an opinion. You've read all these cases. What's our best argument against this MTD? Where should we give up ground on these RFPs? Think about it and express your POV. Convince me you're right. (But read the room on this one; there's a time and a place for this, and some partners/associates want you to be a potted plant).
- Be prepared to be overruled. I may have a reasoned opinion about why we're not going your way. I may not. Go ahead and ask, but sometimes it's going to be hard for partners and senior associates to explain, esp. if they're not great teachers or extremely busy. Keep in mind it's not personal. Being a litigator more or less consists of arguing with your colleagues and bashing out the best (or at least most persuasive) approach.
- Your practice is likely going to vary a lot between things that are purely legal (legal research, briefs, hearings), things that are more like project management/logistics (managing document review, gathering info from clients, handling big filings), and things that only litigators deal with (depos, discovery disputes, trial). Understand that you have no training in the latter two categories. Try to find good senior associates (and partners) to learn from.

Miscellaneous:
- Know your firm before you start emailing to confirm assignments. In my firm at least, I think people would wonder why you were trying to document all of your assignments.
- Try to find early the lawyers you want to be like: both senior associates and partners. Having (and preferably working under) good role models makes a difference, both in job satisfaction and your growth as a lawyer. If you can't find role models where you are, consider looking for different job opportunities.
- YMMV, but generally, ask questions. If you don't understand what you are supposed to be doing or get stuck on something I would much rather you ask a senior associate or even a partner than spin your wheels and waste time.
- Be accurate. As others have said, don't over-represent what you know. An "I think it is X but will check" or "I'll find out" is 10x better than an "It's X!" that turns out to be wrong. If I can't rely on what you say you know, you have negative value as a junior associate.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Sep 19, 2017 9:29 am

I'm a biglaw senior associate in litigation and there's a lot of useful advice in this thread. If you do even half of it, you'll be far and away better than the average biglaw litigation associate. My two cents:

  • Filing days are pretty crazy. The more documents/exhibits a filing has attached to it, the crazier it is going to be. The craziest filings are those with partners/senior associates/clients who do not pay attention to the filing until 5:00 when they get done putting out fires on other matters. Planning ahead so that you are able to quickly adapt to that situation is an important part of the job and is going to save you a ton of stress and potential headaches down the road.
  • Meet with your firm's IT department and learn the ins-and-outs of the firm's document management system. Learn what it means to save a new version, how to run a redline using the firm's preferred program, and how to save a document so that people are not overlapping changes. Practice these things, since you'll have to do them on filing day.
  • A week before filing, check on whether the court you are filing in/the judge allows midnight filings or you need to file before COB. A lot of partners/associates just assume every court operates like federal courts and allows you to file at midnight. Don't assume anything without checking first. Update calendar invites and send reminder emails. Nobody ever got in trouble for sending reminder emails.
    Utilize your firm's non-attorney resources effectively. Firm resources include paralegals, but also include printing, word processing, proofing, the library, and the managing clerk's office. If you have one, the managing clerk's office is the most important office in the department because they handle both the technical aspects of getting something filed as well as know all the clerks and all the both written and unwritten rules. All of these departments can help you have a smooth, error-free filing, if you don't abuse them. You abuse the non-lawyer support staff when you unnecessarily make them stay late (i.e. giving them an assignment at 4:30 that could have been given at 9:30 the day before), give them fire drills, and ask them obvious questions you should know the answer to if you google or think about it for a few seconds. This seems like easy stuff, but many lawyers are totally disorganized, learning something for the first time, or were managed themselves by disorganized or terrible managers, so they have bad habits. Don't fall into that trap. Anticipate what is going to happen and give people lead time to do the work, and you will get much better work product than if you drop a 40 page brief and declaration on a paralegal at 9 am on a filing day.
  • Stuff that can be done ahead of time includes: shepardizing cases, giving the brief several read-throughs for formatting and typographical issues, have a legal assistant bluebook the brief so you have a head start (use a separate copy of the brief than the one the senior/partner is working in for this, the cites might change, but getting it 75% done saves you a ton of time on the filing day), checking the local rules to make sure all proper ancillary documents have been drafted, checked, and run by the managing clerk's office (some courts want a separate motion filed along with a memorandum, others want a proposed order, appeals courts and some trial courts usually want certificates of compliance with page limits and electronic filing requirements), collecting said ancillary documents, organizing them in the order in which they will be filed and getting sign off from the senior/partner that what is being filed is correct, checking that you are abiding by the provisions of any applicable confidentiality order in the case (like redacting confidential information or personal identifying information), and checking the service requirements and having your assistant prep mailings/envelopes if you need to serve something or send courtesy copies. If you have a local counsel, confirm that they will be drafting the ancillary documents ahead of time and then check them yourself when they come in.
  • You should not wait to be prompted by senior associates to do all this. Many senior associates wait until the last minute to do stuff and assume that's how you'd want to operate as well. You should ask them, and if you get back some non-committed response like "eh, don't worry about that stuff yet, partner hasn't finished with the brief" then just do it anyway and don't tell anyone.

As for other good practice management tips:
  • Know how to effectively organize a matter folder within your firm's document management system. That means creating many folders and many subfolders. That means renaming/retitling documents so the date and content of the document is obvious from the title. On you first week, pick the firm's one or two largest litigation matters and go into their folders and look at how they are organized and copy that. For example, if you are doing legal research for a motion to dismiss, you shouldn't have a folder called "Legal Research," you should have a folder called Legal Research and then subfolders for each issue, in which you save your research findings (including emails) and all cases you cited. Don't just save stuff in the general matter folder.
  • Have a dedicated court filings folder for every filing in the case with the date the document was filed in the document title. When drafting documents being able to call up each document in the case without having to go onto PACER (especially if PACER is down) is going to save you a lot of stress.
  • Save everything. Save everything to the shared workspace including any emails with the court or opposing counsel, any emails from clients or third-parties, and any emails discussing research or case strategy. Sit down for 20 minutes at the end of each workday and go through your open emails and save the important ones. Litigation matters last for years, even decades, and I cannot tell you how many times I've needed to call up an email that is over a year old and gotten pissed when some junior saved it to their personal drive because they didn't want to clog up the shared workspace (and that junior is out of the office or on vacation). YOU WILL NOT GET IN TROUBLE FOR SAVING TOO MANY DOCUMENTS, you will get in trouble for saving documents in a totally disorganized fashion. There's an important difference.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Sep 20, 2017 3:59 am

Biglaw midlevel here... have supervised a couple of first years on cases at my current firm. There is good advice ITT. Just to add a bit more.

Think twice before telling people you're unavailable or asking for more time. It's important in biglaw to set boundaries, but I've seen people get hurt by declining weekend work without a good reason or by waiting until the last minute for an extension. For better or worse, an associate's job is to do the dirty work, and the more junior you are, the worse it is in terms of timing / substance. That said, pitching in on late nights / weekends / etc. will earn you leeway on vacations or times when you actually do need space. It's all about knowing what's appropriate and what's not.

Don't be afraid to volunteer your thoughts and then offer to be the one to actually do the work (drafting, research, etc.).

Be on top of deadlines / emails / etc. and be the one to follow up with reminders to everyone about outstanding tasks. This will be more case-to-case, but if you're on a busy matter that generates 100 emails a day, it's very helpful to have someone keeping track of making sure that everything's getting done and seeming proactive.

Always be on the lookout for your next case. That matter that's generating 200 hours of work one month can disappear the next. Don't overextend yourself but don't assume the partner(s) you work for will be able to feed you forever.

Be planning your next move from day one. Figure out what you want to do and how you want to get there. If you want to go in-house (already tough as a litigator), don't compound it by doing white collar investigations. If you want to work for the FTC, don't do copyright lit.

And to echo one point made above, just because it's worth repeating...

Learn your firm's document management system. Being able to pull a document approved previously by a partner, change around a few facts and names, and send it back to them really makes things easy. Some partners will never be happy, even if you send them back their own work, but most have their own conventions and to the extent you've already incorporated them into that draft, it makes you look all the better.

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AVBucks4239

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby AVBucks4239 » Wed Sep 20, 2017 9:26 am

Lots of very useful stuff in this thread. I'll add three things that have helped me immensely:

(1) At the end of every week, spend 1-2 hours going over every active matter you have. It's super easy to get so caught up in one project that you forget someone filed a counterclaim in another matter and need to file an answer within (x) days.

(2) Always look at your calendar for the next three months. If you only look at the next few weeks, you'll miss that there's a dispositive motion deadline in 5 weeks that you should probably start working on now; or there might be a discovery deadline in 60 days, and you need to start drafting your discovery and determining whether you want to take any depositions.

(3) Find the right balance of communication. Don't communicate every time you lift a finger, but definitely communicate with a partner when material things are going on in something they delegated to you.

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Lacepiece23

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Lacepiece23 » Wed Sep 20, 2017 9:52 am

My advice is try to follow the above advice, but don't worry if you are not perfect. It's utterly impossible to make everyone happy all the time. Just keep perspective when you mess up. Don't get too high when told you've done something well and try not to beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Just own the mistake and move on.

Also, try not to stress in the time period between when you make a mistake and need to tell your superior. That can take a toll. Finally, get in good sleep habits, work out, eat well, and don't drink too much.

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First Offense

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby First Offense » Wed Sep 20, 2017 10:11 am

Organize your calendar. I set up "Busy" times on my calendar when we have big deadlines even if I don't have meetings. It's not much, and most partners don't give a shit anyway, but maybe a fellow associate will respect you're busy and not give you a call.

Actually - organization in general. Biglaw Lit is a fucking marathon, and being able to find something three months after you worked on it is kind of important. Sometimes shit gets put on the backburner - you decide not to use a particular expert witness for some mundane reason, and then 3 weeks before the disclosure deadline you find out the other expert you chose has some issues - being able to find and contact that expert that you put to the side months ago can save your bacon.

Also - use the paralegals/staff attorneys/support staff. That's probably the biggest learning curve coming in IMO if you've never managed people before.

RaceJudicata

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby RaceJudicata » Wed Sep 20, 2017 11:07 am

Thanks everyone. This is great so far. Word doc is created and compiling this advice for when I inevitably feel overwhelmed. I'm sure other incoming associates are doing the same. Thank you!!

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby kykiske » Wed Sep 20, 2017 11:29 am

Also, keep in mind that you will inevitably screw up. Young attorneys will make a mistake, whether it be because of sloppiness, or simply lacking the knowledge on how to correctly do something. The mistake could be minor (wrong citation in brief, wrong case number in heading); or something more major (producing privileged materials to the other side). But I believe that partners will and do forgive mistakes, so long as you admit to it, take ownership, and have a plan to fix it.

Further, if something happens under your supervision, take ownership of it. For instance, if you're managing a document review team, and they neglect to redact or remove a privileged document, and it gets produced, your first instinct should not be to blame the doc. review team, or throw them under the bus when talking to your superior. Figure out what happened (immediately). Once you have the facts, research clawback/inadvertent disclosure provisions in the applicable law. Then, report your findings to the superior. And frame it not as a "blame game"; but make it more solution-focused.

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First Offense

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby First Offense » Wed Sep 20, 2017 11:35 am

kykiske wrote:Also, keep in mind that you will inevitably screw up. Young attorneys will make a mistake, whether it be because of sloppiness, or simply lacking the knowledge on how to correctly do something. The mistake could be minor (wrong citation in brief, wrong case number in heading); or something more major (producing privileged materials to the other side). But I believe that partners will and do forgive mistakes, so long as you admit to it, take ownership, and have a plan to fix it.

Further, if something happens under your supervision, take ownership of it. For instance, if you're managing a document review team, and they neglect to redact or remove a privileged document, and it gets produced, your first instinct should not be to blame the doc. review team, or throw them under the bus when talking to your superior. Figure out what happened (immediately). Once you have the facts, research clawback/inadvertent disclosure provisions in the applicable law. Then, report your findings to the superior. And frame it not as a "blame game"; but make it more solution-focused.

This is excellent advice, and - just in general - when you fuck up, own it. Really own it. And take steps to fix it if possible. And if the fuck up is really big (and this may happen) - talk to the partner face to face about it.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Nebby » Wed Sep 20, 2017 11:42 am

Use OneNote to categorize and store all the legal research you do. Use a different Section for each matter you're staffed on, and then use different pages within those sections to categorize your findings and thoughts with regard to specific issues or questions. This is a lot more efficient than using word documents to compile all of your research or saving cases into the library function of Westlaw/LexisAdvance.

Below is an example of what mine looks like:
Image

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Nebby » Wed Sep 20, 2017 11:50 am

Do time throughout the day (if possible). Even reconstructing a week is a pain, let alone a whole month (and it also raises ethical billing issues).

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:01 pm

Some words of advice on pro bono:

Pro bono can be highly rewarding and a great way to actually learn how to litigate a case from start to finish. But avoid taking on too much pro bono when you start even if you are slow for months.

Unlike corporate, litigation matters tend to stretch on for years and bounce back between periods of activity and inactivity. Having too many pro bono assignments on your matter list is going to result in multiple matters hitting at one time, matters coming back at inopportune moments, conflicts between pro bono deadlines and billable work. Also remember that pro bono work comes from areas of law that you are generally expected to learn entirely from scratch and it is not uncommon for even minor matters to take huge chunks of time. (Lawyers who regularly practice in these areas tend to have a lot of forms and to farm out a lot of their work to paralegals. You cannot do that as a biglaw associate).

Keep a sharp eye out for senior associates who will try to badger you into joining their pro bono matters especially for big name partners - you will often end up doing all of the work, and if they leave they will dump the whole case on you (and sometimes other cases as well). And nobody gives you any slack come review time for screwing up a pro bono case or not being available for billable work because you had to devote a lot of time to a pro bono matter.

My rules of thumb is to never take on more than one pro bono case at a time, never to work with people I don't know or trust, not to take on new matters when I am staffed on multiple billable cases, and to do enough research before taking a pro bono case to know whether it is an area of law that has quick turnaround times, is stingy on granting extensions or the case is running up on a deadline or SOL.

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Anonymous User » Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:07 pm

Nebby wrote:Use OneNote to categorize and store all the legal research you do. Use a different Section for each matter you're staffed on, and then use different pages within those sections to categorize your findings and thoughts with regard to specific issues or questions. This is a lot more efficient than using word documents to compile all of your research or saving cases into the library function of Westlaw/LexisAdvance.

Below is an example of what mine looks like:
Image


OMG. Why haven't I ever thought to do this?!?!? I'm bad.

Totally stealing this idea.

Nebby

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Nebby » Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:22 pm

Anonymous User wrote:OMG. Why haven't I ever thought to do this?!?!? I'm bad.

Totally stealing this idea.

Also, I have two widescreen monitors at work. I take advantage of the screen-snap function on Windows to maximize efficiency. I always have OneNote snapped to the far right so that it's always open and on top, and therefore easy to type notes quickly. It's also great for when someone calls and I never have paper/pencil.

Below is a full screencap showing what I'm talking about. Typically I'll have the document I'm drafting and OneNote open on the right screen, and other documents or LexisAdvance open on the left screen:
Image

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Re: Incoming Litigation Associate

Postby Nebby » Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:24 pm

When it comes to deadlines, I keep track of all of them in Outlook's Calendar. I'll make them "all day" events and mark them as "high importance." That way, they'll show up at the top of the day and be bolded, which makes it easy to sift through your calendar to see when what is due and when.



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