You hear the term "face time" used a lot in the context of law firm practice. This is, loosely, the notion that there is some value in showing your face around the office, even if you are not doing anything of substance. I don't believe in face time. (As a rule, I don't believe in anything that does not serve some substantive purpose or function in furtherance of your career. For example, during the office organization segment of a recent live program I hosted, a participant asked me if keeping her desk clean would somehow communicate to others that she was not busy with work. I understood the question completely - we are conditioned to be concerned with appearances - but, for me, keeping an organized office and avoiding a potential malpractice action take priority over others believing I am busy. If you are putting in hard work and consistently delivering work product that exceeds expectations, your career will have no need (or time) for arbitrary actions.)
OK so, back to this notion of face time. I am often asked when associates should begin and end their day. While every practice is different (and, depending on your firm, city, and workload, your day-to-day will differ significantly), there are certain universally accepted principles to keep in mind:
1. As a new lawyer, you should tend to come in on the early side and stay on the late side. This is for a number of reasons. First, in the early years of your career, it will take you longer than expected to get your assignments done. You will need the extra time. Also, while you should not put in arbitrary face time, you do want to be in a position to receive work whenever the opportunity presents itself. The more you are in your office, the better your chances of receiving an assignment. Finally, for the first months of your career, you will want to observe the practice habits and daily routines of your colleagues. By getting in before them and leaving after, you will have a good sense of their average work day, and thus a good sense of what is expected of you.
2. Stay at the office until your tasks for the day are complete. We suggest that you craft a detailed to-do list, whether in electronic or written form, that sets forth everything you have to do daily, in two week blocks of time (in other words, every day you will know precisely what you have to do daily, two weeks out, with flexibility built in for unexpected assignments or assignments that take longer than you anticipated). When you have completed everything on your list, plus any impromptu work that has arisen, you should feel free to head home (if you are working in a law firm where you are required to bill time, complete your time sheet as the last task you do every day). Of course, if it is 2:00 in the afternoon and you have completed your tasks for the day, get started on tomorrow's tasks. As a new lawyer, you schedule should resemble a normal work day. And, if you are regularly leaving the office early, you are likely not going to make your billable hour requirement and/or prove profitable to the firm, which could result in negative consequences.
3. Mimic an assigning attorney's schedule. Where you are working closely with an assigning attorney on a case, project or deal, it will be your responsibility to arrive in the office before he or she gets there and stay after he or she leaves. This way, in the morning, you can get ready or do any preparatory work that will need to get done, and, in the evening, you can clean up and organize in preparation for the next day. The assigning attorney will be thankful for your professionalism, dedication, and support. And, you'll find that building genuine, strong working relationships with more senior attorneys will do much more for your career than any face time ever could.
One benefit to our collective cultural addiction to handheld devices is that, to some extent, we can come and go as we please. We are always reachable and our desktops are literally at our fingertips. When I first started practicing, which was not that long ago, using handheld devices was still fairly uncommon. Thus, associates were stuck at the office - and behind their desks - more so than they are now. Be creative about your day. Use your time efficiently, and well. While being mindful of always doing good work, get everything done as quickly as possible so you are not stuck at the office longer than necessary (this is a good reason not to spend excessive time on Facebook, Espn.com, etc. during the work day, too - it simply prolongs the inevitable). And don't worry too much about face time. While your face is lovely, I'm sure, if you work hard, do good work, and keep busy, you will be well regarded, other arbitrary behaviors (mostly) notwithstanding.
Desiree Moore is the President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC. Greenhorn Legal offers intensive practical skills training programs for law students and new lawyers as they transition from law school into their legal practices. Ms. Moore is also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and was an associate at the law firm of K&L Gates. She can be found on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.