Would you leave a final exam answer blank unless time had run out? Probably not. Why, then, might you tell your supervisor that there was no answer to the problem that he posed in your most recent assignment?
Despite your best efforts, sometimes there is no easy answer or no answer on point. However, you can’t just say “Sorry, Mr. Partner, there is no answer,” or “I don’t know” after hours or days of research. Why not? Your boss can’t turn around to the client and say “Sorry, no answer.”
You have to give your boss something that he can use to tell the client the pros and cons and options inherent in the difficult position that having no clear answer creates.
At the very least you need to say “These are the options, and here are the benefits and problems of each. Given the facts as you have provided them to me, I would recommend the [first, second, whatever] choice because...” Clients can’t make decisions based on “I don’t know,” and they fire the lawyers they perceive as unhelpful.
This applies in the public sector, as well. The Attorney General can’t go to the Governor and say “We don’t know, so you’re on your own on this problem.”
Susan Gainen's programs for law students are: Alternative Careers, 2nd Career Law Students, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, Professionalism Has Attached, and The Forever Skill: Job Search Outside of OCI. She is a watercolorist, painting geometric abstractions called nanoscapes, and she is artist, wrangler, blogger, and curator for whimsical creatures called small friends. Her creativity workshop is Watching Paint Dry Can Be Fun.