New Lawyer? Top 10 Tips For Fitting In, Standing Out, And Learning On The Job

New lawyers, fresh out of law school, can feel overwhelmed. Law schools can’t teach everything, and there’s a lot of on-the-job learning. That can be intimidating and even a bit overwhelming.

Hear the Top Ten tips for standing out and “learning how to be a lawyer” from two guests who have excelled throughout their career and have made partner at their respective firms. A lot of the rules in your firm may be unwritten or traditional. One space after a period, or two? Volunteer for new tasks. It’s not easy, but it earns you experience and showcases your willingness to step up.

Some of what new lawyers need to do are difficult and complicated. Others are as simple as showing up on time and turning in work that looks perfect and is free of typos. Yes, that matters, even for internal communications. With each task, the best new lawyers progress from competence to excellence.

Start with the goal of being a “superstar associate” by being the best lawyer you can be. When new lawyers take on tasks and do good work, others notice and mentor. What any new lawyer makes of their earliest experience in any firm will drive them to the next level, whether that’s at a current firm or another endeavor.

Plus, a Quick Tip from the ABA Litigation Section’s Mental Health and Wellness Task Force. Hear about how attorneys are vulnerable to eating disorders. Attorneys experience high levels of stress and are vulnerable to developing many substance abuse issues. Learn to recognize the signs.

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Transcript

Dave Scriven-Young:

Hello everyone and welcome to Litigation Radio. I’m your host, Dave Scriven-Young. I’m a commercial and environmental litigator in the Chicago office of Peckar & Abramson, which is recognized as the largest law firm serving the construction industry. With the hundred 15 lawyers and 11 offices around the US on the show, we talk to the country’s top litigators and judges to discover best practices in developing our careers, winning cases, getting more clients, and building a sustainable practice. Please be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcasting app to make sure you’re getting updated with future episodes. This podcast is brought to you by the Litigation section of the American Bar Association. It’s where I make my home in the ABA. The Litigation section provides litigators of all practice areas, the resources we need to be successful advocates for our clients. Learn more at ambar.org slash Litigation. Most law firm associates feel that their legal education has not been helpful and has played no role in developing their ability to actually practice law.

Hybrid and remote work are leaving associates feeling disconnected, and law firms often fail to train their young lawyers on what is expected leaving associates who are often working in their first professional job to figure it out on their own. So how do associates find out what are the essential skills and knowledge to excel in their careers and pave the way to partnership? Well, our guest on today’s show will be giving us their best tips for how associates can become superstars at their firms. Our first guest is Eliot Turner. He’s a partner in Norton Rose Fulbright’s, Washington DC office in the firm’s antitrust disputes group. He represents clients in defending and prosecuting claims under the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and state antitrust laws. He also frequently counsels clients about matters regarding trade secrets and is represented companies in Litigation to protect their trade secret information and enforce non-compete agreements, particularly in the energy sector. Eliot is the former editor-in-chief of Litigation, the Journal of the ABAs Litigation section, and is the author of Here’s How to Make Me Happy, an article that appeared in the Litigation Journal. Welcome to the show, Eliot.

Eliot Turner:

Thanks so much, Dave. Happy to be here.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Our second guess is Judd Littleton. He’s a partner in Sullivan and Cromwell’s Litigation group in Washington DC and serves as co-head of the firm’s Supreme court and appellate practice. In addition to his Supreme court and appellate work, Judd maintains a diverse practice that includes complex commercial Litigation and criminal defense and investigations. He has represented leading multinational companies and financial institutions as well as individuals accused of crimes or other serious wrongdoing in high profile matters. So glad to have you on the show, Judd

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

Glad to be here. Thanks Dave.

Dave Scriven-Young:

So Eliot, let’s start with you and let’s have a basic context question here. Why is it important to become a superstar associate? I think a lot of young lawyers may not know why it’s important, so tell us why.

Eliot Turner:

Dave, I think you hit on something interesting in your introduction about how being a superstar associate can pave your way to partnership. But I think in the last 15 or 20 years, we’ve seen more and more people start working at law firms who might not view partnership as their end goal. But being a great associate is I think equally if not more important for those people as it is for somebody who aspires to be in the partnership of the law firm that they start out with or in the partnership at some other law firm. Just generally speaking, when you do good work and impress people, they want to help you. They want to work with you, they will help you find other opportunities even outside the law firm if that’s not your ultimate goal. Ultimately what you make of your experience as a law firm is going to translate to your next job or your continued success at the law firm. And so those skills that you develop as a good associate, as a great associate really translate to just so many different things, whether they’re at the firm or somewhere else.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Yeah, so agree. It’s important to know your definition of success. Judd, any other thoughts?

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

I completely agree with what Eliot just said. I mean, the most direct and obvious reason to be a superstar associate is if you want to make a partner, you need to stand out and put yourself in a position to potentially do that. But even if that’s not in your plan from the very beginning, it’s very important to become a superstar because that will put you in a great position for the partners who you may work with, who may have a lot of connections to help you get other jobs that you might be interested in and you want to stand out for that reason. And then I would just say that being at a law firm and being a law firm associate for reasons that I think we’ll talk about today is a pretty incredible and incomparable training ground to learn how to be a lawyer. As you said, Dave, you don’t really learn that in law school. And so the way to learn how to be a lawyer is just by doing it as an associate at a law firm and doing it well is going to ensure that you’re set up for success in whatever you do down the road.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Perfect. So let’s go through our top 10 tips for becoming a superstar associate. Eliot, let’s start with you for our first tip.

Eliot Turner:

I think one thing you hear a lot as a young associate and even as you progress to be a more senior lawyer is that you have to know your audience, right? If you’re writing a demand letter to an opposing party, you’re going to write it differently than you’re going to write a brief to a judge or you may write a statement to a mediator. But it’s equally important to sort of know your audience when you start out working at the law firm to know the sort of ticks of the partners, the more senior associates that you’re working with, their work habits, their preferences in terms of writing style and things like that. Because the more that you are in sync with them, the easier it is to work with them and be a valued member of your team. So if you understand that the partner you’re working for sort of likes to be in the office between nine and four, but for some reason you’ve set your schedule as two to eight at the evening, that’s probably not going to be a good recipe for working well together because you’re not going to be available when they want you and they’re not going to be available when you want them.

I think really getting in, and you see this in writing styles and deposition styles, knowing how somebody wants to prepare for a deposition, prepare for a hearing, understanding that is important. It’s not intuitive how you might go about doing that when you’re new in the job, but you have all these other associates around you who are great resources. And so one of the things that I would often do if I was working with a partner who I’d never worked with before is I’d go to some associate I knew who had worked on a case with them recently said, what’s it like to work with Judd, right? I mean, what does he expect of me? What should I maybe watch out for and be aware of? And all those little tips, people are really happy to share them and they’re going to help you do better with that person.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Great tips there. The one thing that I would mention is I remember when I was a summer associate at a major law firm, I was writing my first memo for the first time and didn’t know this, but apparently back then, I don’t know if it’s still true, even for you guys where you work, they paid particular attention to how people were listed in the two lines, the memo. So it was by years of service at the law firm. I didn’t know that until my secretary, my assistant told me. So an assistant, a mentor, folks, there are definitely a lot of resources for us to get to know kind of expectations and certainly to know your audience.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

It’s funny that you mentioned that. I mean, I think that that is something that only certain people care about is the order of names that are listed in the two line, but it is a very important rule of the road that you should learn and you will never make anyone mad by following that rule, I think,

Eliot Turner:

But you will make somebody mad if you don’t follow

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

It. Exactly,

Eliot Turner:

Yeah. You’ll also be surprised by how many people get up in arms over whether you’ve got one space behind a period or two. I mean, everybody has their quirks.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Exactly right. All right, so we’ll move on to tip number two. Judd, I think this is yours.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

So I think tip number two is to be available and be responsive. And what I have in mind on this is raise your hand for opportunities early on, even when you feel like you may not be fully cognizant or fully confident in your ability to do something. Maybe it’s your first time to do something, but if an email comes around on a team, say you’re on a big Litigation team and a partner sends an email around that says, Hey, we need to do this, raise your hand and say, I’ll do that. I’ll be happy to handle this. That is the best way to get experience. And as I mentioned earlier, I think your early years of being an associate in particular, that’s what it’s all about. It’s getting experience and doing these things that you didn’t learn how to do in law school, and it’s giving you exposure.

It’s identifying you to the partner and to the senior members of your team as someone who’s a go-getter, someone who will volunteer. And that kind of exposure is always a good thing. Being available means also that sometimes emergencies come up, sometimes you have things that have really short deadlines. It is the nature of our business that clients have emergencies. You get a TRO that you have to respond to within two days or 24 hours, and no one really likes that, but everyone, it’s part of our business that someone has to draft that in the next 24 hours. And if you are a person who raises your hand says, I’ll do it, that’s only going to be a good look for you. Being available and responsive means that you’ll work hard and oftentimes, sometimes long hours, but it’ll be worth it.

Eliot Turner:

No, I think Chad’s completely right. I mean, clients expect us to be very responsive when they have a question, they want to know an answer. I know that if I can’t answer a question immediately, I still make an effort to get back to the client as quickly as I can to let them know that I’ve received their question and that I’m working on it and that I can get back to them by a certain time because if they need it sooner, I can try to shift things around and work for them. And when you’re an associate, your clients in some sense are the other lawyers in the firm. And so when you raise your hand or when you get an email and you don’t respond, sometime, the partner may need that more quickly than you’ve been able to respond, and they may go ahead and just find somebody else if they haven’t heard from you. Responsiveness is super important to our clients and it’s super important within the firm.

Dave Scriven-Young:

And the only thing I would add on that is one of my favorite lines from a mentor is the illusion of help is worse than no help at all. So if you’re going to raise your hand, you actually have to do the work and make sure that it’s good and make sure that you’re keeping in contact with folks to let ’em know how you’re doing. So let’s go on to tip number three, Eliot.

Eliot Turner:

So this sort of, I think dovetails with what we just discussed, and it’s being timely. You got to be quick. You’ve got to take the time that you need to do something, but you should try to stay on top of things and get drafts out early because you never know what the schedule of the other people you’re working with is necessarily. Sometimes people will say, I’ve got a hearing coming up. I’m going to be in trial. I know that this is not due for three weeks, but I’m going to disappear for the middle period and I’m not going to be able to review it, so I need to get it done before I go to trial or I’m out at depositions or whatever. So working quickly and getting a product out is good because it helps members of your team. I think also it helps make a better product.

I mean, we do work under a tight deadline. Sometimes it’s not possible to finish a draft well in advance of a filing deadline, but if you have that opportunity to write a motion, put it down for a day or two, come back, let it marinate, think about it, you’re going to make a better motion than you would have if you’re really just trying to get it out the door. It’ll allow you to get input from your team, do things that you may need to prepare. I mean, heck, you may discover some strand or argument that you hadn’t considered before, but now you’re going to have the time to develop that on discovery. If you don’t talk to your client until two or three days before your written responses or do, you might not be able to search for documents. You might not know how burdensome or how easy it is to produce those things and it’s going to put your client in a jam and it’s going to put you in a jam too. So being timely is very important because it helps you get better work product out.

Dave Scriven-Young:

And a lot of that I think is knowing what the expectations of your clients and your partners are. But yeah, I mean just getting things done early I think is key.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

The one thing that I really want to touch on that I think I had to learn and so maybe others have to learn, is really the importance of internal deadlines and clarity on internal deadlines within the firm. I think that there can sometimes be a for inexperienced associates, and again, I will say that I had this where you almost have a fear of setting a deadline because you don’t know at that moment when you’re setting the deadlines, how much time something’s going to take you, and you’re just guessing and you’re saying, well, I need to figure out how much work I need to do now in order to meet this internal deadline. But those internal deadlines are critically important to the senior lawyers and the partners who you are working for because almost all of the time, we have many, many more matters that we are juggling than you probably do.

And we have to kind of plan out when we are going to work on certain things very carefully to ensure that we are being timely and that we’re meeting client expectations and meeting court deadlines and being able to give everything the care that it deserves. And so we really depend on associates hitting the deadlines and delivering us drafts of things when they say they’re going to and a missed deadline. It might seem in your world, in your mind, in your perspective that it’s not that big of a deal if you’re just a day or two late, but that can really throw things off and a missed internal deadline can really cause some problems that you might not be able to see. So I just really want to stress the importance of setting and living up to internal deadlines.

Dave Scriven-Young:

So question that I’m sure every young person is thinking right now. Okay, so what if I tell somebody that I can meet a deadline or if I create a deadline for myself that I can’t meet for whatever reason, what do I do?

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

Great question. Tell me as soon as possible, as soon as you think that it might be an issue, don’t wait and say, I hope that I can, some miracle will happen and I’ll actually be able to get it done. Tell me in as far in advance as possible so that we can figure out a plan to address that, whether it’s shifting it to something else or just allowing me to shift around my schedule. I think just owning up to it and admitting to it as quickly as possible is a much better outcome of that not ideal situation than I don’t find out that you missed the deadline until the deadline has passed.

Eliot Turner:

It’s better in that situation to ask for permission and for forgiveness because as Judd said, oftentimes we’re juggling things, but we’re very concerned about what the ultimate work product on all of our matters is going to be. And so allowing us to adjust and be flexible is helpful to us. And it also is good because we want to communicate. I mean, when I give somebody an assignment, I don’t expect them to go off into a cubby hole and just write a motion and then come back to me in a week. I’m hoping that we’re going to have a conversation and whether it’s about the substance or deadlines or all those things, communicating with your team is really important too because it allows people to adjust and maybe get you more resources if you need help, talk to another partner who is trying to drag you into something that may be exciting and interesting, but that you’re already committed for. And those things happen all the time. I mean, I know that Judd and I have probably been in those situations and there were probably times when we busted a deadline rather than communicating it. And now on the other side we sort of realize that that was probably not the best way to go.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Well, great tips there. And now we’re on to number four, Judd, I think this is yours.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

So I would say number four for me is to really take ownership of and care about the little things. And I’m kind of putting little in air quotes because it seems little, but it’s actually in our profession, my view is that little things are big things too. And because they all go to a big thing, and when I’m talking about little things, I’m talking about the kind of minutia of all of the procedural aspects of what you’re going to do. What court am I filing in? What are my judges individual practices and preferences? Do I have to send a courtesy copy of this motion that I’m going to file? Are there specific rules for service that I have to focus on in this? Those are some little things that you as an associate are expected to and should become the expert in and take ownership of.

And then the other kinds of little things that I am talking about in this is the nitty gritty of documents. So make documents look perfect. That means proofreading to make sure there are no typos. That means making sure the citations are formatted well. That means making sure the document that you’re creating looks good and there are no kind of weird formatting or font issues that kind of immediately jump out to somebody. People can have a tendency to think that, well, it’s just a typo. Everyone knows what I mean, who cares? But I think that those things go to a sort of broader, they convey a broader sense of reliability of our work product. And when it’s something that’s being filed in court and it has typos in it, I think it just looks, number one, it looks a little bit embarrassing because we’re being paid to prepare something that is professional and that is, in my view, should be perfect, but it also kind conveys to whoever the reader is that, well, if you didn’t care enough to make sure to spell these words correctly or not use typos, can I really trust the content of what you’re saying in this?

So I would say that that is the obsessing over the little things like grammar and spelling and citation form and formatting and everything is important definitely for external documents, documents that are being filed in court and going out to clients. But it’s also true internally when you send a research summary by email to the team, if that is riddled with typos or has kind of obvious errors in it, it’s going to lead people to question whether you’ve really put the time in and effort into this that it deserves. So I think it all goes to reliability and someone who really obsesses over those little details is always going to stand out.

Dave Scriven-Young:

As an associate, I remember I was putting appellate brief together and I was supposed to be going on a vacation with my family right after we filed it. And this was back in the day with things weren’t so electronic, we actually had to file paper copies of this brief and had to be a certain color cover and bound in a certain way. So I got it back from the printer, started flipping through the document, and apparently the printer that they were using or the copier had been losing ink. And so with each page there was less and less black. And so I started freaking out and obviously, but if I hadn’t gone through each of those copies and made sure that they were perfect in terms of printing, we would’ve had a serious issue having them being filed with the courts. So great tip. Jud Eliot, did you have anything else on that one?

Eliot Turner:

I’m going to just put in a huge plug for Microsoft Word styles. If you don’t know what those are, Google them, make sure that you use them. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve gotten a document that somebody has manually, which takes a lot of time to do and makes it hard to format correctly. And in my experience, a document that’s manually formatted is probably not correctly formatted. And again, it’s just like a little thing, but our clients pay us a lot of money for the work that we do, and we should make sure that what we do is worth every penny that they’re willing to pay us to Judd’s point, citations, proofreading, all of that enhances your credibility. I mean, I certainly know, and I’m sure this was Judd’s experience too, when I clerked and I would find a citation that was wrong, it would cause me to question what else the party in the brief had said. On the other hand, if I saw something that looked a little bit of scance and then I looked it up and the party was right on point, that enhanced their credibility. And I think that in terms of knowing your audience, all those little things are very important.

Dave Scriven-Young:

And now we’ll go to the fifth tip, Eliot, this is yours.

Eliot Turner:

So as important as the small things are, the big picture is really important too. You’ve got to have a view of what you’re trying to achieve in your case, what the strategy is and how you fit in it. And as a first year associate, you might have never been involved in a class action MDL and have no idea about how to get to a defense verdict or how if you’re a plaintiff, how to win that case. But again, talk to the people you work with about where you’re going. If you get a new lawsuit and you’re filing a claim, go read the jury instructions for those causes of action so that you understand what proof you’re doing. And that’s going to help you in every single aspect of what you’re doing in the case, because you’re going to understand why this document is important, why it’s relevant, why this testimony makes or breaks your case.

But if you just sort of focus on, well, I’ve been asked to review things that are responsive to these document requests and sort of just view that very narrowly, you might be able to do that, but then you’re not going to find the document that is a killer piece of evidence for your case that you can take to the partner and say, look what I just found. Right? This is incriminating. I mean, this wins it for us, or how can we explain this? Knowing the big picture is just really important. And of all the things, at least in my book that I think distinguishes superstar associates from just good associates, it is those who are able to put together what we’re trying to do in the case and understand how we’re going to try to get there.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

I totally agree, it will make your work product better and make sure you’re doing it your slice of the pie and your little piece of the team’s work, it will make that much better and you will learn more and goes back to what we were saying at the beginning. A lot of what you’re doing is learning how to be a lawyer, and there’s no better way to learn than to pay attention to how your piece fits into the broader picture.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Excellent. All right, well, let’s go to tip number six then, Judd.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

All right, so tip number six for me, I mean it could have been my number one is learn how to write. Nothing sets apart. Great associates or superstar associates in my mind, like those who can really write well. If you think about it, I mean in the Litigation world, even those of us who are trial lawyers, I would say our single most important stock and trade is written work, written work product. And that’s essentially what we’re selling. That’s what our business is. Having high quality written product is the single most important thing that can set you apart as an associate. There are a lot of different kinds of writing. Of course, you have briefs, you have research memos, you have internal research summaries, but writing those well is critically important to being a good lawyer and standing out as an associate, you have to be clear in your analysis, you have to convey that you have really comprehensively thought through the issues and through the problems.

And in my view, being concise as possible is equally important as the content of what you are conveying. So the importance of great writing and learning how to write and always improving your writing ability really can’t be overstated. So it raises the question, how do you learn how you get better? In my view, it’s read. Read great briefs, find people who are writing really well and writing really good briefs and read them, study them, see how they take apart issues and how they structure arguments and also read great non-legal sources, read great magazines, read really good writing. I mean, I think there has been an increasing trend in the legal world that I think is very, very positive and that I care a lot about to make legal writing more plain language writing rather than jargon heavy. And learning how to be a great legal writer in my view is increasingly just the same as learning how to be a great writer. And so you can become a better writer by reading great writing.

Dave Scriven-Young:

One point that I would add, and Eliot will bring you in on this one, is learning from criticism of your writing from partners. So tell us about how an associate can learn from the red lines that a partner is making.

Eliot Turner:

When I was a young associate, I drafted a motion for summary judgment, and the partner who I was working with gave it back to me, marked up in red pen, and he said, look, this looks a little bit bloody, and I want to let you know it’s not bad, but these are my suggestions. And what I did was I went through them line by line. This was before people were using track changes all the time, and I manually typed them in and did the changes and understanding what he was changing and then thinking about why he might be doing it and talking to him about that helped me improve. And so throughout the first three or four years as an associate, you may be getting a lot of changes back on your writing. That doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer, it just means that you are learning to write.

I mean, in some cases you may even get bad changes back and you just have to accept them because that’s what the partner wants. But a lot of times people are really investing time in trying to improve your skills as a writer. And so I think being open to that as an idea, doing the things that Judd talked about is really how you get that. And I’ll say as I became more senior lawyer, I saw a number of associates make that transition where they came to me with sort of workman-like competent briefs, but briefs that weren’t as good as they could be. And over 1, 2, 3 years, they suddenly became excellent brief writers because they really invested the time in understanding how to become better writers.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

Could I just add one thing, David? I mean that what Eliot said about getting a hand marked up brief, I mean it is so true what Eliot just said, that taking the time to understand why someone has made the edits they have made to your written work product is just truly invaluable. And I mean, I think the biggest mistake that associates can make is just accepting changes and not thinking about why those changes were made and hand marking up briefs that just occurred to me when you were talking about this hand marking up briefs actually has the effect of forcing you to do that a little bit more or at least making it much more likely that you can do that. So I wonder if accepting track changes is actually a net negative for that functionality. Now, not that I want, it would take me much longer if I hand marked up everything, but Well,

Eliot Turner:

I also think you could subject associates to your handwriting. That’s right. It’s tough, but it goes back to another point that we’ve been talking about, and Judd, I think you’ll talk about a little bit more later, don’t reflexively accept the changes either if a partner writes something and you’re like, man, they just didn’t understand what that case said, right, or This is wrong, or I think it’s a problem, you should go to them and you should say, Hey, I want to talk to you about this change that you’ve proposed. I kept it this way because X, Y, and Z. And they may say, oh, that’s a good point. I didn’t appreciate that. Thanks for bringing it in my attention. It’s really easy to just say, accept all in track changes and just do it reflexively. But you’re paid to be a critical thinker. If they just wanted somebody to do their proofreading, they could send it to a word processing, a singing department or something like that. When I send you changes, I’m not asking you to accept them reflexively. I’m asking you to think about them and think about them critically.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Well, why don’t we move on to that point, Judd, because I think a lot of associates have that fear about having that conversation with the partner, but from your point of view, that’s something that partners want.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

Totally. I mean, it was on my top tips for becoming a superstar associate, which is talk back to me. I really depend on it, and I think this is true of all partners. We know that for some of the reasons I talked about earlier, associates are often and almost always much more dug in on certain things in the case than the partners are, whether it’s the facts or even whether it’s all of the cases that we’re discussing. And I may have an idea for an argument that I think we should be making or a way that we should frame this argument, but I recognize even if I don’t say it to you every time, I recognize that you have done the research and you have read these cases much more closely than I have the documents much better than I do sometimes. And so if you think I’m wrong, tell me that.

And we really depend on that, and I really value when associates say, actually that’s not really the right way of reading that case. Or if you say that we’re going to run into this other problem with this other line of cases, or we have these documents that undermine that, that is in my view, part of you doing your job. It’s kind of a requirement for the job description, but those who really kind of engage and argue with me and talk through issues and talk through the arguments that we’re going to be making, that’s the stuff that makes the ultimate work product better and makes the associate really stand out in my mind.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Well, and it’s also how you learn as an associate as well. You raise a point, the partner will say yes or no, and you’ll figure out why that will work or won’t work. It also helps you to develop that relationship with that partner to spend more time with him or her. And because partner’s going to give you more work if they like and trust you and developing that relationship is key. So Eliot, I think we’ll move on to the next tip on delegation.

Eliot Turner:

Yeah, I mean this is something that you sort of don’t learn, and I’ve got to confess sometimes I’m real bad at this still, but it’s something you learn as you sort of progress and become a junior associate. A mid-level associate is delegating, right? And it’s what Judd and I and others try to do with our associates. We delegate work to you because we trust you to do it and to do a good job. And so as an associate, you have to learn how people have effectively delegated to you, see what examples work, how you present an assignment, how you frame a question to be an effective delegator to even more junior associates or how to collaborate with teams. I mean, I often think that when I get work product back that isn’t quite what I expected or maybe isn’t quite on topic, I think myself, did I properly frame this research assignment? Is there something that I could have done differently to help the associate go more in the direction where I thought it would go? Because that’s very important in ensuring that you get good results and as you get more senior, you have to learn how to do that effectively.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Judd, any examples or tips you might have for an associate who’s delegating to in a Paralegal or an assistant for the first time? Because again, when I started a law firm, it was my very first professional job. I didn’t have any lawyers in my family, so it was all new to me. So any tips on delegating as an associate?

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

It is a skill. It is a learned skill in my view, and it’s something that didn’t come naturally to me. It still doesn’t come naturally to me to delegate things because you feel you have this impulse that if I delegate it, I don’t know for sure that it will be done well and will be done the way that I would do it if I were doing this particular task. And you just have to, it’s just an area where trust becomes very important. And as Eliot was saying, the instructions that you give for the assignment, make sure that you think through rather than just say, Hey, could you handle this for me? Give guidance, give instruction, and then express obviously openness to, Hey, if you have any questions while you’re doing this, come talk to me about it. And all of those things can kind of ensure that you are going to have kind of the inner comfort that the delegated work product is going to be what you expect and what you need in order to do your part of your job.

Eliot Turner:

It’s also important how you interact with your team members. I think that the most effective teams are teams of people who actually like working together. And so I’m being considerate, polite, respectful of other people’s time and priorities is really, really important. And what you’ll find is over time, if you develop a reputation as somebody who people want to work with because you’re collegial, you’re congenial, you’re liked around the office, people are going to just want to work with you, it’s going to be easier to ask more of people and get better results if they know that you’re somebody who respects them and values them as a member of the team.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Love that. Okay, so we’re down to our last two tips. Judd, take it away with your last tip.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

So I would say my last one, which these are not in order of importance, they’re all very important, but the last one for me is to make yourself indispensable. So as I was saying earlier, the nature of this business is that both for economic and time reasons, no partner can be an expert on everything in the case, no senior lawyer can know everything there is to know about some of the litigations that big law firms are handling. And so as a result that creates opportunities for associates who are assigned particular factual issues or particular legal research issues to really become an expert in that area and become truly indispensable to the team because they are identified as the expert in that area. I think the most obvious place to do this is with respect to factual issues. Document review oftentimes gets kind of a bad wrap because it sounds like, I remember in law school it’s like thinking about law firms, well, if I go there, do I have to do doc review?

I mean, the answer is yes because every lawyer has to do doc review. And also when you’re a young associate and you are being asked to take a look through the document record and understand the document record, you should view that as an opportunity to become the expert on the facts to understand what has really happened. And that is going to come up again and again and again throughout the course of the Litigation. And you want to be identified as the person who, when X senior partner on your team. When this comes up in a summary judgment or comes up at trial, gosh, what does the factual record say on this? You are the person who everyone knows this issue backwards and forwards. That’s a way that you can truly become indispensable to your team and that obviously is one very easy way to be identified as a superstar.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Excellent. Why don’t we move on to Eliot’s last tip on business development?

Eliot Turner:

Yeah, so I mean at the beginning we talked about how maybe not everybody wants to be a law firm partner, but I think that developing good business development habits is important no matter what you end up doing. I mean, your responsiveness to the lawyers you work for is going to be good training for how you’re responsive to clients. If you ultimately become a partner in a law firm, if you talk to in-house lawyers about cases you’re working on, oftentimes they will refer to the non-lawyers within their company as their clients, and they’re your clients too. But the in-house lawyer is your client and you’re trying to make them look good. So being prompt, being responsive, understanding the objectives of the partners or the business clients who have engaged the firm all help you stand out from other people who are just sort of punching the clock or not being responsive.

Ultimately, it’s hard to get business. There are lots of good lawyers who can do the work, but the people who tend to get it are the ones who are responsive, communicative, check in with their clients even when they don’t have matters, see if there is anything they can do. Occasionally send somebody an article on a subject. Now you may not be doing that as a third or fourth year associate, but you can say, Hey, I read this article in the Wall Street Journal that talks about this issue and I think that client Y may be interested in knowing about that, and you can pass that along to the partner and help make them look good by letting them tell the client about it. Or in some cases, if somebody sends me something I say, that does look interesting, right? Why don’t you forward it on to the client with a note? All those things will help you get business, but even if you go in-house, they’ll help you be successful there because you’ll be able to issue spot. Think about those things and really help your clients in-House navigate the challenges that they have.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

I couldn’t agree with what Eliot said more. It’s another, I think business development is, like I was saying about delegation, it’s a skill. It doesn’t come naturally to everybody. It’s something that you learn how to do and getting involved and demonstrating that you care about business development as a junior associate is a great way to not only practice and learn how to be a business developer, but also to really stand out because it shows that you are thinking about the bigger picture of not just your cases, but the firm’s business. And obviously we are a business and demonstrating that you are someone who is conscious of that and aware of that and cares about that, is a great way to stand out.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Well, great. Well, we are coming to the end of our time together, and this has been such a great masterclass on how to be a superstar associate. So we’ll start with some last thoughts, Eliot, any final thoughts on being a superstar associate?

Eliot Turner:

Being a lawyer and being a good lawyer is what you make of it. I mean, it’s obviously a lot of hard work, but it’s really rewarding to be able to help people with difficult and complex problems and know that they put their trust in you to help them do that. Earning that trust starts when you start at the law firm and demonstrating that you’re going to be good at your job and it continues, and you have to continually earn that trust from all of your clients because as much as you’ve done to build up your reputation, if you make a misstep, you can lose that just as quickly. So learning those skills early, practicing them often is what’s going to make you succeed in this profession, and I think it’s going to make you feel really rewarded in what you do.

Dave Scriven-Young:

And Judd, any final thoughts?

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

Yeah, I mean, I would echo that in some of the themes of our conversation. It’s been such a great conversation, but I would encourage young lawyers to really view this and being an associate as a learning opportunity and a developing opportunity, it is not just a job, it’s an opportunity to learn new skills, to work on really interesting problems. And by the nature of everything in this world, the harder you work at it and the more you try to excel at it, the better return you’re going to get on the time that you invest in it. So view it as an opportunity, work hard and you’ll be great.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Excellent. Well, yeah, this has been a tremendous conversation. Eliot Turner, jug Littleton, thank you so much for being on the show today. Really appreciate it.

Judson “Judd” Littleton:

Thanks so much, Dave. Thank you.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Thanks to Litigation section, premier sponsor, round table group for sponsoring this podcast. Roundtable Group is an expert witness search and referral service with decades of experience and a comprehensive array of academic and industry relationships that further enhance the expert search capabilities of attorneys. Learn [email protected]. And now it’s time for our quick tip from the ABA Litigation section’s mental health and wellness task force. And I’d like to welcome back Haley Maple to the show. Haley is a shareholder at Katt Siegel and Maple in Tampa Bay, Florida, where she focuses on representing design professionals, general contractors, subcontractors and manufacturers in all stages of Litigation and in professional liability matters, commercial Litigation, contract disputes, and construction defect. Litigation, welcome back to the show, Haley.

Haley Maple:

Thanks for having me, Dave.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Well, what’s your quick tip for today?

Haley Maple:

I’m really excited about today’s quick tip because it’s something that I hadn’t really thought of much until recently, which surprised me because I really consider myself to be pretty plugged into the mental health issues that impact attorneys. In recent conversations just prior to the holidays in 2023, and attorney I know was sharing information about his battle with disordered eating at that time. It occurred to me that so much of our focus on attorneys and mental health is on dependency, self-care, managing stress, and suicidal ideations. While we don’t focus on necessarily traditional eating disorders, it prompted me to dig in more on how eating disorders impact attorneys in ways that we can address that particular issue. Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and selective eating disorders. Among other diagnoses, during my research, I learned that there really isn’t much research. One study by the Journal of legal education found that as many as 27% of law students, which was 18% of male respondents and 34% of female respondents screened positive for eating disorders, while only 3% had actual diagnoses.

This told me that law students were not necessarily seeking help for this particular issue, and therefore raising knowledge about it is very important. The Association between attorneys being at greater risk for experiencing higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than some other disciplines extends not surprisingly, to eating disorders and disordered eating. There is not much out there though on attorneys, and hopefully we see more research soon. Brian Cuban, who many of our listeners know, is an outspoken advocate for many mental health issues. He’s the author of The Addicted Lawyer, the Tales of Bar, booze, blow and Redemption. He publicly acknowledged his eating disorders about 15 years ago and described his struggle as one of the hardest of all his mental health and addiction issues to discuss. You can find out more about Mr. Cuban’s struggles with eating disorders and his discussion on eating disorders on his [email protected].

The important takeaway I think for now is to address the question of how law schools and employers can support law students and lawyers who may be struggling with disordered eating the National Eating disorders. Association provides a guide on its website that can be displayed or available for law students and attorneys. It also helps employers identify signs that may indicate a disordered eating or eating disorder pattern. National Eating Disorder Week occurs from February 26th to March 2nd, 2024. I’d encourage all to raise awareness during this time with your colleagues, your firms, your employees, and your employers regarding resources available on eating disorders for attorneys and law students. You can find resources locally in addition to those mentioned on the National Eating Disorder Association website. I hope to learn more on this personally as I move forward and that we can raise awareness on this very important issue so that folks get the help that they need and deserve.

Dave Scriven-Young:

Thank you for bringing this important topic to our attention. Really appreciate it.

Haley Maple:

Thanks again for having me, Dave.

Dave Scriven-Young:

And that’s all we have for our show today, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about today’s episode. If you have comments or a question you’d like for me to answer on an upcoming show, you can contact me at [email protected] and connect with me on social. I’m at Attorney Dsy on LinkedIn, Instagram X and Facebook. You can also connect with the ABA Litigation sections on those platforms as well. But as much as I’d like to connect with you online, nothing beats meeting you in person at one of our next Litigation section events. So please make plans to join us at the 2024 and Environmental and Energy Mass Torts and Products liability, Litigation Committee’s joint Regional CLE program in Avon, Colorado, taking place January 31st through February 2nd, joining us for eight plenary presentations on Hot Litigation topics, including committee specific content, broader Litigation interests and ethics. In addition to an agenda of diverse educational sessions, there will of course be time to enjoy outdoor activities and network with your colleagues.

To find out more and for registration information, go to ambar.org/joint. If you like the show, please help spread the word by sharing a link to this episode with a friend or through a post on social and invite others to join the show and community. If you want to leave a review over at Apple Podcasts, it’s incredibly helpful. Even a quick rating at Spotify is super helpful as well. And finally, I want to quickly thanks some folks who make the show possible. Thanks, Tom. Michelle Oberts, who’s on staff with the Litigation section. Thanks. Also goes out to the co-chairs of the Litigation Section’s audio content committee. Haley Maple and Tyler, true thank you to the audio professionals from Legal Talk Network. And last but not least, thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you next time.