Advice to associates from Partners

The tools that we create at Casetext are used widely by associates. To better understand how technology can help associates impress partners, we surveyed nearly 100 partners at the country’s largest firms, asking them what associates can do to really stand out. 

So if you are an associate, here’s why you should read this post:

  1. You will know what partners expect you to know and do 
  2. You will learn how to use technology to sharpen your legal writing
  3. You will learn 5 tips to do great work and impress the partners you work with.

Tip #1
Do good, thorough research: 74% of partners say it’s very important that substantive legal research has been completed

Partners are relying on you to do good, comprehensive research. This was what partners ranked as the most important factor in their assessment of associate work. This is of course hard, especially for areas of law that you’ve only worked on for a couple of years. Partners suggest getting help from peers and staying organized in your research efforts. They also suggested using the right technology, which can be a major factor in researching well. Compose, a latest brief writing tool, lists all of the arguments, legal standards, and cases you may want to include in a brief, helping build an outline that makes sure no key issues or cases are missed. For those without access to Compose, we recommend using treatises or other secondary sources to get a “lay of the land” from experts before you dive into the research. 

Quotes from partners:

“Start with a comprehensive outline with all arguments included.”

“Be sure that you have a clear understanding of the project and issue(s), as well as an estimate of the time the project should take. So that if you have spent 25% of your time and are struggling for answers, or have spent half your time and are just getting into it, stop, seek guidance, ask questions, use technology, etc.”

“If you are struggling to locate authority on an issue, check in with the team to ensure you should continue to search or modify the search.”

Tip #2
Be efficient: 60% of partners said that it is more important for associates to be efficient now compared to a year ago.

Efficiency is the big conversation at every law firm in 2020. This is driven by clients, many of whom were already pushing their firms to be more efficient—but the present state of the economy has made the demands for efficiency all the more urgent. The partners we surveyed suggested communicating with the team early and often to avoid spending time on rote or unnecessary tasks. 

Most associates spend 30% or more of their time researching and writing. Legal tech products focus on removing the rote aspects of an attorney’s work. Newer AI-based search technologies, like Parallel Search, enable you to write the sentence you want to find legal support for and find supporting precedent. Compose lists out all arguments and legal standards you may want to make in your brief, enabling you to add it with a click.

Quotes from partners:

“Plan and outline the assignment, discuss the time estimate up front and discuss the strategy for the brief up front so that the partner does not have to redo the associate’s research and/or arguments.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask more senior associates or partners for help or clarification if they feel stuck before continuing to waste time chasing down rabbit holes.”

Tip #3
Small things matter: 26% of partners said it’s very important that citations in associates’ briefs are properly formatted and 23% say it’s important your brief is typo/error free.

Always check for typos and formatting. This one, in our opinion, is an easy one. A large part of this is being careful, proofreading, and Bluebooking. Technology can also help. Tools like BriefCatch can help polish your writing and find common citation errors. Compose, the newest brief automation technology, suggests language and citations to use in your brief that’s always error free which can help get you started on the right foot. 

Tips from partners:

“Print out and proofread.”

“Focus and be concise.”

Tip #4
Try new technologies: 85% of partners recommend associates try new technology to make them more efficient. 

Let technology help you take care of the rote tasks of brief writing so you can focus your time on what partners expect from you. Especially explore artificial intelligence technologies which have the greatest likelihood of taking the easy stuff off your plate, making you more efficient while giving you more time to get it right.

Tip #5
Help the firm invest in technology: 66% of partners recommend law firms invest in technology to make them more efficient.

If you find a technology that is working for you, share with your partner and colleagues so they can help your firm save time and money and be more efficient. Partners want you to learn and share. 

So next time a partner asks you to find support for “this” don’t forget to go through this checklist. Your research and writing will set the stage for everything else you do.

We’ll leave you with the biggest takeaway by an anonymous partner:

“Write as if no partner will review your work and your and the Firm’s reputation, and the client’s satisfaction, depend entirely upon you getting everything right the first time.”