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Career Center: Juggling Assignments and Your Sanity During the Summer

'Please take me to a nice lunch!'

If the law firm is a circus, the summer associates are the clowns –- albeit clowns with one heck of a paycheck. I could go on and on with other circus-themed comparisons: the partner is the ring leader, the senior associates are the lion tamers, the junior associates on document review are the shovelers following the elephants to “sort” what comes out. But this post focuses on the summer associates who, like clowns, must learn how to juggle –- and instead of balls or bowling pins, summer associates must learn how to juggle several work assignments simultaneously.

According to Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner, one of the toughest challenges for young lawyers is managing their own workload. It is difficult to estimate the time that a project will take, especially since nothing in law school prepared you for the actual practice of law. Not to mention you will be working for several partners and attorneys simultaneously, which places an additional burden on you.

Here are some tips to help you juggle your assignments….

Know your deadlines. First and foremost, always have a legal pad on you when meeting with a partner or attorney. You are not a waiter taking an order that you can memorize. Listen and take notes. Do not leave the assigning attorney’s office without knowing the date AND time the assignment is due. When you return to your office, you may realize that you forgot to ask a question or that a fact or detail seems unclear. Review the materials you were given — but do not be bashful about seeking clarification.

Know your limitations. You want to appear energetic and committed, but you must also be realistic about your availability. It’s important to be interested and make a partner feel like he or she is the only person at the firm that matters, but it is more important that you do not take on so much work that any partner is left disappointed. On the other hand, if you decline to take on work and appear under-engaged or slothful, supervising lawyers may think you are lazy or not committed. It is definitely a tough challenge, but that is when those mad juggling skills come into play. You need to determine which assignments have greater priorities by communicating with the partners. When given a new assignment, let them know what else you are working on to gage the priority level of the new assignment. The assigning attorney may move the deadline for the new assignment; help make arrangements with the other attorneys you are working for; or determine that you should not handle this new assignment. The last option may sound bad, but know that screwing up an assignment is a lot worse than declining work -– especially when the assigning attorney fully understands your circumstances.

Relish your time as a juggling clown before you are handed that shovel, and click here for some more advice on juggling your work flow during your summer clerkship. For additional career insights, as well as profiles of individual law firms, check out the Career Center.