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Rookie Mistakes to Avoid as an Associate: Failing To Pay Attention To Detail


"At my first law firm, I assisted in preparing a number of documents as part of a transactional filing for one of the firm's largest clients.  In reciting the company name, I did not insert a comma before the 'LLC,' though I was told that the company name required it.  The documents were filed before anyone realized my error.  At the time, I thought it was a small mistake.  As a result of this 'small mistake,' however, a team of lawyers was forced to spend frustrating hours preparing and filing amended documents, which caused the client substantial delay and unnecessary expense.  This mistake early in my career branded me as someone who approached assignments with a blase attitude and as someone who did not pay attention to detail.  This is a terrible reputation to have as a new lawyer - in fact, it is a nearly impossible one to change."

How to avoid this disaster:

As we said last week, your priority as a new lawyer, whether you are in a transactional oriented or litigation oriented practice, whether you work for the government, a boutique firm or a large law firm, is to be the most diligent, attentive practitioner you can be.  

Your objective is not to be substantively perfect - this is a waste of energy since much of the substance will be lost on you early on.  This is true for every new lawyer.  However, you should be focused on creating an impeccable work product.  

To do this, you will need to have an organizational plan in place, good time management skills, a strong sense of how to manage emails in a law firm setting, and how to pull everything together again and again so you stay on top of your work and work product.  It is also incredibly important to listen carefully to assignments as they are given, to take copious notes, and to ask any follow up questions to be sure you have understood the assignment in its entirety.  (If you have reservations about asking questions for fear you may be bothering someone, remember, it is much better to avoid errors than to possibly be inconveniencing one of your colleagues.  Also, if you approach your colleagues mindfully, with your questions organized and succinctly prepared, and with discretion, you will not be bothering them at all.  In fact, your smart, thoughtful questions will be appreciated.)  

There is simply no room for a costly, careless error like this one.  And you won't make it, I assure you, if you go into your practice with the commitment not to.

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.