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Career Center: Blown Deadlines & Mismanaged Assignments (Or Things to Do to Not Get a Permanent Offer)

In case you might have forgotten, a summer clerkship at a law firm is a job. You are expected to be at work during normal business hours, to follow instructions, and to complete assignments. The fact that the firm may take you to concerts and fancy restaurants should not control how you perceive the summer clerkship experience. You must determine your priorities and plan accordingly. By far, the most frequent problems encountered by summer associates are the challenges presented by handling multiple assignments or meeting tough deadlines. This week’s Career Center Summer Associate Tips Series features advice on managing your assignments and deadlines from Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner.

Lawyers live in a world of deadlines — depositions must be taken, briefs must be filed, statutes of limitation will run, deals must be closed, and client presentations may be made. Some deadlines change unexpectedly. Others are immutable. Before tackling any assignment, you must understand the relevant deadlines….

Apocryphal stories abound concerning lawyers who invent artificial deadlines to torment summer associates. Those stories are, by and large, baseless. The assigning partner is, in most cases, juggling several deals, cases, or client matters. Their work for Clients A, B, and C, may well impact their availability to review your work on matters for Client D.

They do not need to explain that to you, and they probably will not. You may not be able to discern why a deadline is imposed. Indeed, it may seem arbitrary or irrational. For example, you may be told to draft an answer for a complaint “by Friday,” even though the deadline for filing the answer is not for three weeks. The assigning partner is not trying to take your brain for a test drive. Rather, they may need to review the draft, furnish it to co-counsel, send it to the client, and juggle all of that around depositions they are taking across the country during the week when the answer is due.

Yes, some lawyers are terribly disorganized, and some put their work first and your work last. Clients can be disorganized and demanding as well — or just opportunistic about doing a deal or starting a law suit — one reason you are paid so much is because you are a professional who can be deployed at any time. Some will wait until the last minute before giving you comments. That’s the way of the world, and you must learn to deal with it. You will learn in practice that clients, judges, adversaries, and others can turn your calendar topsy-turvy without warning. The successful lawyer will learn early in his or her career to deal with interruptions, emergencies, and changing priorities. Once you settle in as a practicing lawyer and develop close personal relationships with partners and clients, this fog will lift and it will be easier to handle.

Click here to learn more about the deadlines and priorities that summer associates must endure and manage during their summer clerkships. For additional career insights, as well as profiles of individual law firms, check out the Career Center.