Meeting with a senior attorney to discuss a new assignment is a critical moment. Here is a checklist of information to listen for, organized in three groups:
- the most critical items
- additional information that may be covered explicitly or implicitly, and may be appropriate to ask about
- deeper, more intuitive information that really should not be asked about but may become apparent through careful listening
Critical information: Certain information should be covered explicitly. If you don’t hear it in what the assigning attorney covers, ask about it.
- Who is the client?
- What are the relevant facts?
- What is the relevant area of law (or suspected relevant area)?
- What is the expected format of the assignment (e.g. an e-mail, an in-depth research memo, a draft letter, a deposition outline)?
- When is the assignment due?
- If applicable, what is the billing reference number?
Additional information: The assigning attorney may bring up additional helpful information. You may be able to ask some or perhaps all of these questions if they don’t come up independently.
- How much time is it expected to take?
- How complex is it expected to be?
- Does the assigning attorney want a follow-up e-mail confirming the assignment?
- Does the assigning attorney want to be checked in with, or simply have the completed assignment delivered on or before the due date?
- Does the attorney want you to follow a particular sample?
- If the attorney does want you to follow a sample, is it a sample of the document setup or of the writing and analysis, or both, or something else?
- Who will read the final work product?
- How does this assignment fit into the larger context of the larger representation of this client?
- Should you research the facts any further — or would that be inappropriate? (In other words: should the assignment be based only on what was stated in the initial meeting, or can and should you spend additional time reading background files or talking to people who know about the case?)
- Are there any recommended resources to use for the assignment — for example, well-known specialized research resources)?
Intuitive information: Some information is not explicit and is not the kind of thing that can or should be asked about directly. But it may be available by careful listening to word choice, nonverbal signals, and what is not said.
- Does the assigning attorney enjoy working on this particular case or matter?
- Does the assigning attorney have a sense of autonomy over his or her own role in the project?
- Is this assignment something that is truly necessary in the short term, and that other lawyers will rely on? Or is it more of an evaluation tool for assessing you?
Thanks to Professor Tami Lefko for feedback on this checklist.