Be sure when you receive an assignment to know the deadline. If the assigning attorney does not give you a deadline, ask for it. Also be sure to receive the budget for a project. The budget is the time the assigning attorney expects you to spend on the project. Many summer associates do not appreciate the importance of the budget. The budget is critical because the time you spend on a project will translate into hours billed to a client. When you ask for the budget or the amount of time to be spent on a project, the responses may range from “spend as much time as necessary” (the deadline will then give you an indication as to how much time to actually spend), to “this should take you no more than 20 hours, but come back to me after 10 for a progress report” to “spend no more than 5 hours on this project.” The last budget instruction indicates why it is important to ask for the budget. Case in point: An assigning attorney may give the summer associate an assignment that is due in 2 weeks. If the summer associate does not ask for the budget, the summer associate may spend 40 hours per week for 2 weeks, researching every aspect of the issue, digging deep into related issues and writing up a fantastic memorandum summarizing the results of her research. The assigning attorney, meanwhile, assumed incorrectly that the summer associate appreciated the fact that the assignment was narrow and short and the attorney was just being kind in giving the summer associate an extended deadline. The result of the lack of communication? An excellent and thorough memo on a point for which the client just wanted a brief check and a bill with 80 hours of summer associate time where the client and assigning partner were expecting 5 hours billed. The bottom line is that you should always ask for the deadline and the budget if the assigning attorney neglects to convey the information… then meet or beat the deadline and stay within the budget!
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