I was once a NQ myself (a fair few years ago now!) but I also continue to work very closely with our NQs today at Signature Litigation, helping them integrate into the firm and making sure that they are as happy and fulfilled as they can be. If you want to hit the ground running and make an impact, there are a handful of things you can focus on.
1. Take the initiative
Volunteer for work; don’t wait for it to fall into your lap. Walk up to Partners and Associates and ask if there is anything you can do to help. Once you get assigned to one or more cases, you’ll get to grips with the job quickly, and soon become a critical member of the case team.
2. Ask questions
While there are many questions you can find the answers to yourself, you’ll often be joining a case where there’s a long history, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. I’d be more worried if an Associate didn’t ask questions! Asking shows that you’re thinking ahead about what needs to happen in a case and often where the gaps in the evidence or legal arguments may be.
3. Assume nothing
Never assume that someone has already asked your question. You may well be the first, which in turn might mean everybody in the team looks at each other and says, “Hey, that’s a really good question!” Our job as lawyers is to probe, to prod, to question things and turn things around. Very often there is no clear answer to a particular question, but it is important that Associates identify the areas of uncertainty and follow a logic train to identify a way forward.
4. Pay attention to detail
I can’t overstate this one enough. One of the key tasks of an Associate is to get into the fine detail of a case, so if a Partner or another Associate asks you to read an agreement, to identify certain provisions for example, make sure that you read and re-read until you spot them. You need to show that you're thorough and diligent – getting the basics right is essential if you want to progress and take on more responsibility with a particular matter.
5. Be organised
Some people are able to remember everything in a particular case or deal – what they and everyone else has to do – without writing anything down. The majority of people (and I certainly count myself in this group), need to keep written lists. If someone asks you to undertake something, write it down, and then when you have a break in your day, revisit your list and remind yourself what you need to do. The consequences of missing something you’ve been instructed to do could be very serious, especially when you’re up against court deadlines!
6. Enjoy it!
We spend a lot of time at work – as lawyers, quite frankly, more than many other occupations. Progressing also takes time – so be patient, but try to grab every opportunity. You’ve worked very hard to get this far, including your training contract, so enjoy the journey. We tend to be good at things we enjoy, and enjoy things we are good at.