Associate Advice: Six Tips for Successful Work Lunches

Happy Hump Day, Law Babe!

It’s finally summer (officially not until tomorrow, but whatever).  That means that plenty of summer lunches are on tap, whether you’re a full-on associate or a summer associate.  I’ve had more than my fair share of awkward business lunches, so I thought we’d cover some ground here today and go over five tips for making these necessary (but sometimes evil) lunches at least palatable.

top view photo of dish on white plate

 

1.   Napkin Etiquette.  Your napkin should go into your lap as soon as you’re seated.  If you get up at any point during lunch, your napkin should be placed on your chair, not on the table.  Don’t place your napkin back on the table until you stand to leave the restaurant.

2.   Put your phone away.  Unless you have a really good reason to keep your phone on the table (yes, waiting on a call from a partner probably does count), you’re just not that important that you need to keep your phone(s) on the table.  Don’t be that person.  If you must sneak a peek at your phone during lunch, do so quickly and under the table towards end of the meal (when the bill is being paid, for example).

3.   BMW: Bread, Middle, Water.  Your bread plate is to your left, your water cup is to your right.  That’s easy enough to remember.

4.   On appetizers. If everyone else at the table orders an appetizer, go ahead and order one too.  However, if no one in your party orders an app, you should skip it.  If you end up being the first to order first, feel free to ask around the table to see if everyone is ordering starters.

5.   No alcohol, no exceptions.  It’s a work lunch.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the summer associate and all the associates hosting you order drinks.  No alcohol.  End of story.

6.   This isn’t the time or place to be ask for a doggy bag.  Don’t ask for your leftovers unless you truly haven’t touched your meal for some reason.  Otherwise, you run the risk of coming across as a bit desperate.

There you have it!  Hopefully these tips will pave the way for a summer’s worth of successful (and un-cringeworthy) lunches.

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe! xoxo.

Associate Advice: Should I Keep My Office Door Open or Closed?

Hello again, Law Babe.  One of the (million) things I never quite understood as a young associate was the etiquette of a closed office door.  Should I keep my door open?  Shut it?  What about when someone else’s office door is closed?  Knock?  Come back later?  Let’s try to break it all down.

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Photo by Albert Chernogrov

When deciding whether to keep your door open or closed, you should always pay attention to the culture of your firm and take your cues from your colleagues.  At some firms, no one closes their door unless they’re in there having a serious HR conversation, while at others, doors stay closed all the time.  Of course, most firms are somewhere in between.  You should generally observe your colleagues and manage your door accordingly.

That said, here are some thoughts about closed doors:

1.  A closed door implies a need for privacy.  It signals that you’re unavailable for interruptions, so keeping your door closed shouldn’t be your default.  In most settings, you should close your office door only when you specifically need to — like when you’re having a sensitive conversation, are under a tight deadline, or are on your speaker phone. 

2.  Close the door when you’re conducting a phone conversation that you expect to last longer than a few moments.  And for the love of all things holy, please close your door if you’re on speaker phone (even if for 30 seconds).  Nothing will annoy your colleagues faster than having to listen to all sides of your conference call.

3.  If you’re new to the firm, err on keeping an open door policy.  When you’re new, your colleagues don’t know you and your work ethic yet.  It can be disconcerting to watch a new colleague shut his or her door significantly more than most of their coworkers do.  It can make people wonder what you’re doing in there and can signal that you’re out of sync with the firm’s broader culture.  It also sends a stand offish vibe, and you don’t want to create that initial impression.  So especially during your first few months, I’d default to keeping your door open the vast majority of the time.  After that, you’ll have a better sense of what associates at your professional level do with their doors, and you can take cues from them.

4.  If you need to speak with a colleague whose door is closed, tread lightly.  This next piece of advice goes particularly when you’re about to knock on a partner’s door.  If you absolutely need to speak to a partner who has his or her door closed, and you just can’t wait, there a few things you can do to make this less awkward.  First, listen at the door to make sure he or she isn’t on the phone or that there isn’t another person in the office.  If you hear any indication that the person  is otherwise engaged with someone, just come back later unless you have a true emergency (and I can think of very few true emergencies).  If you don’t hear any evidence of a conversation, knock lightly and wait for the person to invite you to open the door.  Do not be one of those people who knocks and barges right in.  The last thing you want is to walk in on something awkward!  Don’t put yourself in that position.  Plus, manners.

What do you think?  How do you feel about closed office doors?  Have you ever accidentally walked in on someone doing something awkward in the office?!

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

Associate Advice: The Billable Hour Survival Guide

Real talk: these 3 words will probably always give me a little jolt of anxiety.  I read recently that the average young associate has an average annual billing target of around 1,800 hours.  My target when I was a big law associate was 1,950.

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but let’s just break that down for just a moment. Let’s say your target is 1,800.  There are 52 weeks in the year.  This means you need to bill approximately 34.6 hours each week of the year.  If you want to work just 5 days a week (ha!), you need to bill 6.92 hours each business day of the entire year just to meet your billable hours requirement. 

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

What’s that, you say?  What about a vacation?  Christmas week?  A Monday off for Memorial Day weekend?  July 4th?  You need to take your hamster to the vet?  Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  You get the point.

Any hour, day, or week you need to take off for practical matters or just your mental sanity, let alone to have any kind of fun, needs to be made up elsewhere during the year.  And once you get behind, it’s notoriously difficult to catch back up.

I consistently struggled to make my hours, as did many of my work friends, because of the feast or famine phenomenon many of us encountered.  I would be absolutely swamped for say, 2 weeks, and bill a ton of hours, only to have things completely settle down and have no hours to bill for the next 2 weeks.  It was like some kind of sick Murphy’s law, that that’s just how it always went.

Now that I’ve vented, here’s my number one tip for billing hours: make sure you capture every second of your time worked on a matter!  Once I began to focus, really focus, on accurately capturing my time, I discovered that I had been losing out on a significant amount of hours.  I promise that if you make tracking your time a priority, the tiny increments of time will add up significantly.  You should not be letting any .1 slip away from you without recording it.  An email here, a voicemail there… it all counts.  And trust me, whether they’ll admit it or not, your competition (other associates in your firm) are recording their time down to the split second.  My senior partner once said to me, verbatim, “If you don’t accurately capture your hours, the only person you harm is yourself.”  And he was right!  Whether it’s your path to partnership, your job security, or even your annual bonus, the only one who gets punished if you don’t accurately capture your time is Y-O-U, Law Babe.

I also found (to my dismay, because I really enjoyed staying involved in firm activities) that to meet my hours, I had to decide which firm events I attended with greater scrutiny.  Yes, showing up to firm activities is important.  But no, you likely do not need to attend every CLE or cocktail hour the firm hosts, especially when they tend to begin at 4:30.  I found that packing it in even just a little bit early for these events was really cutting into my hours.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t beat yourself up over the billable hour.  Hours stress everyone out.  It’s all going to be ok, and there is absolutely no reason to lose sleep or experience anxiety over your hours.  If you don’t make your hours for the day, month, or even for the year, life goes on.  This I can tell you with 100% certainty, because I’ve been there.  I survived, and you will too.  I promise.

How do you cope with the billable hour?  Do you have any tips or tricks to share?

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

Associate Advice: A Junior Associate’s Guide to Dealing with Senior Associates

Hey, Law Babe.  Whether you’re a first year associate, a mid-level associate, or somewhere in between, there will be associates ahead of you in tenure at the firm and in years in practice (or both).

In my years as a junior associate in big law, I honestly was never totally sure where I stood in relation to the more senior associates in my group.  Should they assign me work?  Was I required to accept their assignments?  What if I was too busy?  Was it even acceptable to bill to a client if a partner hadn’t formally approved my doing so?

ballpen-blur-close-up-461077.jpgOf course, looking back, I should have taken the glaringly obvious approach, and simply asked the billing partner what the expectations were.  And that’s precisely what I recommend you do.  I know that’s easier said than done, however.  There are bound to be times when, for whatever reason (either real or self-imposed), that’s not an option.

So what happens when a senior associate approaches you and says, “Hey Law Babe, I have an assignment for you.”?  There are two potential responses here.  The deferential response would be to say “Great!  Never mind that I have a billion other assignments to tackle this weekend and I haven’t slept in 3 days.  What’s the matter number?”  The more savvy, albeit potentially more risky, response would be “Okay.  I’d be happy to help.  However, I am very busy with a number of other assignments that have been assigned to me by partners.  Has the billing partner approved my working on this matter?”

There are a few reasons I suggest that you take the latter approach in a respectful and tactful manner.

First, there will be times when the billing partner has not approved your working on the matter for which the associate has requested your help.  The senior associate might be either trying to flex his or her authority muscles, attempting to take work off his or her plate, simply lazy, or whatever…without actually having the authority to assign you matters.  This poses a potential problem because a number of clients demand that they approve associates and their billing rates in advance of the associate performing any work.  Heck, some clients don’t let first year associates perform work on their matters at all.

The associate who is attempting to assign you work might not be aware of these rules.  If this is the case, it’s not going to be fun when the billing partner pulls you both aside and asks why the hell you were working on this matter and who assigned you to it.  In the worst case scenario, your time might end up having to be written off the bill if the billing partner doesn’t feel comfortable going back to client and to get your rate approved.  In case you can’t tell, this is a slightly cringeworthy true story from my days as an associate.  Everyone got over it, but it was unnecessary and awkward.  It would have been far more effective for me to simply ask the senior associate if my help on the matter had been approved prior to just diving in.

Second, when you blindly jump at the requests of a senior associate (who again, may or may not have been actually given this authority), you’re setting a precedent that can quickly devolve into a slippery slope.  The unfortunate truth is that there are associates out there who will take advantage of you and your stellar work ethic.  Next thing you know, you could be on the regular receiving end of those Friday afternoon work dumps we all love to hate.  There are, of course, also those associates who just love the feeling of thinking that they are being in charge of a junior associate.  Hellloooo, power trip.  Just remember that you’re a Law Babe and you don’t need this nonsense.  You have way too many other fabulous things to be accomplishing with your time.  Don’t buy into it.

So, if you’re approached by an associate who is senior relative to you, it might behoove you to confirm that your acceptance of an assignment has been approved by the billing partner.  You might ruffle some feathers in the short run, but odds are you’ll also earn valuable respect from both the associate and the billing partner.

Junior associates (and law students) are oftentimes unnecessarily deferential to their senior counterparts.  I’m going to go off on a slightly unrelated tangent here.  I have been called “Miss Lastname” on more than one occasion by a summer associate candidate.  This was a huge turnoff.  Please, if you are in law school, you should not address anyone as “Sir,” “Mister,” or “Miss” in an interview or a post-interview follow up.  I am going to write an entire post about this, now that I’m remembering it.  Unsurprisingly, that candidate did not get the position.  I also want to point out that the candidates who have called me “Miss” were consistently female.  I have to say that I I have a difficult time envisioning a male candidate calling his interviewer “Mister.”  Nope, men refer to their superiors in the workplace by their first names.  And so should we, Law Babes.

I think the moral of the story is to absolutely be polite and respectful, but don’t disrespect yourself in the process.  How can you expect to be taken seriously as a professional if you act like a meek subordinate?

Clients want attorneys who will take a stand for them.  You can’t learn to be a solid advocate for your clients until you learn to advocate for yourself first.  Unfortunately, you will most likely run into status-conscious associates who won’t like you if don’t blindly follow their orders, but do you really give a hoot about whether or not people like that like you?  I think not.

The bottom line, Law Babe, is by all means, be respectful of your colleagues.  But just because another associate has worked at your firm a bit longer (or god forbid, has had a license to practice law a few years longer than you), does not give them authority to blindly boss you around.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  How would you handle a situation like this?

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.