. . . every Associate should ask when receiving an assignment;
. . . every Assigning Lawyer should answer before the Associate has to ask.
The legal memorandum is the focus of the relationship between the Assigning Lawyer and the Associate. A good memorandum begins with the Assigning Lawyer knowing how to give the assignment, and the Associate knowing how to receive it.
Assigning Lawyers: Behind that confident façade, the Associate is terrified. He might have edited the Law Review at Virginia, but he’s thinking, Wait a minute, the rules have changed! I used to know what was expected of me, but now I’m not so sure in this office setting with secretaries and real live clients and billable hours! (Sound like the inside of your own head not so long ago?) To render your life easier, make sure the Associate understands the assignment.
Associates: The Assigning Lawyer’s world is filled with firm and family matters, client concerns and health issues, and cases you don’t even know about. She is busy and often can’t put herself in the mindset of an Associate encountering the situation for the first time; so you must accept the responsibility for understanding the assignment. Don’t leave her office confused (I’ve done that).
While delivering the assignment, the Assigning Lawyer should answer these six questions for the Associate. If the Assigning Lawyer does not answer them, then the Associate must ask them:
1. the obvious: When is the assignment due?
2. About how long should the assignment take?
3. After I finish my research, if I have further questions, may I come back?
4. Do you want me to check in after a set number of hours anyway?
5. Here is the format I typically use; is that okay with you?
6. Will you take five minutes to critique my work?
(The answer to this question is always, “Yes!”)
The greatest potential for confusion arises when the Associate has too few facts, so Assigning Lawyers be complete, and Associates listen carefully; if you sense a gap in your understanding, or if you need more specific information to narrow your effort, ask for more facts.
Remember: The better the communication between the Assigning Lawyer and the Associate, the less the Assigning Lawyer frustration, the less the Associate angst, and the better the final product.