November/December 2020

Practice Management Advice

Teaching Associates to Develop a Litigation Strategy

Heidi A. Barcus

When new associates are hired, it is easy to keep them busy drafting discovery, answers and agreed orders. They can work quite effectively and without much supervision for the first few years with the firm. However, at a certain point in time, the associate needs more challenging work, and the senior trial lawyer needs more support. Training an associate to do more than simple document production is a challenge. Figuring out how to nudge young lawyers into more effective roles takes effort. As the senior lawyer, it can seem easier to just let things rock along or move from new associate to new associate. In the moment, it is efficient to keep assigning specific tasks with deadlines. However, over time these individual discrete tasks become less challenging for younger lawyers. There is a real risk the lawyer will become bored and look for more rewarding work at another firm or in another practice group. It also reinforces a bad habit that young lawyers all too easily develop: only handling the task at hand and not looking at the case as a whole. It is a vicious cycle. We want associates to do more, but we keep assigning discrete tasks.

Training lawyers to take initiative and perform independently can be frustrating work for the lead trial lawyer. Who knows if that associate will be around in five years? Who knows if the lawyer is even up to the task or has the interest in the work?

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