First Week of Work: Make or break your summer

First Day

Meeting people:  Strong handshakes and good eye contact are key. Do your best to begin to remember names and functions. Ask for an organization chart and make notes. You will be both efficient and effective when you understand how work gets done (who works for whom? who is in which department?)

Getting started: Do not gripe at the amount of paperwork that you must complete. Commit to replying to all administrators' requests double-super-promptly. If administrators like you, they can save your reputation and your job.

Your office space: How do others personalize their spaces? With tiny tasteful photographs of their loved ones or 5-foot-velvet-Elvis paintings? Until you have a permanent job, find a comfort level that meshes with the office norm.

First Week: New Assignments


Take notes

Always take notes when you are given an assignment. Assigning attorneys do not know that you always remember every word that's spoken to you. It makes people nervous to give complicated instructions to someone who doesn't take notes, and your work will be suspect. People will consider you unreliable before seeing your work, and doubts may linger.

Questions to ask when you get an assignment.


  • Do you have a source for the best place to begin my research?
  • Have you handled matters similar to this one? (If "yes," ask for the name of the file.)
  • How many hours do you think that this should take?
  • When do you need this on your desk?
  • Do you want to see me before I have finished the project?
  • How should I format the results? (letter to the assigning attorney, memo to a client, etc.)
  • Are there research restrictions such as time on Lexis or Westlaw?
  • What style would you prefer? (persuasive, strictly factual, brief-like, memo-like?)
  • Will you want a paper or an electronic copy of the final document? 


Following a very important direction:

When the assigning attorney says "Bill and Jane did work similar to this. Talk to them about the project," do not scurry back to your desk and send an email asking for everything that they know about Project X.

Your boss means for you to walk down the hall, knock on doors, and have face-to-face contact or a phone call if the lawyers are out of town. Following this instruction benefits you because your Boomer or X-er boss doesn't want to hear from colleagues that they were email-bombed by an unknown law clerk, and because she has handed you a golden opportunity to get to know more people in the office. Play your cards right, enhance your reputation, and do good work.

Be a pal. Share this advice with everyone in your Torts section.

******Susan Gainen has a suite of programs created just for law students: Alternative Careers, Second Career Law Students, Professionalism, Job Search Skills = Business Development Skills, Job Search Outside of OCI: The Forever Skill (unless you are a Ground-Hog-Day-2L). In addition to 25 years of legal career development activity (headhunter, law school career development, consultant), she is an artist. Her other workshops include "Open Your Heart and Close Your Wallet: Watercolor Postcards for Travelers," and "Cave Painting with Gesso."

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