As discussed in the first entry, we acknowledged the impact that COVID-19 and “the new norm” has had on an associate’s development. Despite the ability to pick up the phone and collaborate via email or Skype, nothing compares to a face-to-face conversation with a more seasoned attorney. Because the virus does not seem to be slowing down, we identified a few best practices that associates can implement to avoid mistakes during the coronavirus era.
Remember the Basics
It is critically important to stay organized while working remotely. In addition to an extensive knowledge of the law, associates should have an unparalleled command of the facts. At inception of the case, associates should create a timeline of relevant events with a list of potential key fact witnesses to the dispute. As more facts are uncovered, you can update this timeline with further relevant information (e.g., dates, names, key documents) that will support your case.
If you are diligent in updating the timeline, you will be able to identify gaps or holes in the case that require further development during the discovery phase. When it comes time to drafting dispositive motions, a detailed and concise timeline will make that process more efficient and less painful. The timeline can also be used to identify anticipated testimony, key exhibits, and heading off evidentiary issues well in advance of trial.
Get Comfortable with Popular Videoconferencing Platforms
Another element of our daily lives lost in the coronavirus era is face-to-face communication. Phone calls lack the important non-verbal communications that accompany every conversation. Eye contact, hand gestures, facial expressions, posture, fidgets—these non-verbal actions play vital roles in understanding one another and limiting miscommunications.
We all know and have likely used Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype by now. Many times, however, the use of such platforms is limited to large conference calls and client calls. Likely your routine communications with your colleagues are by phone. Associates should encourage the use of videoconferencing platforms to better communicate with senior associates and partners—especially during important conversations about a case.
Technological Limitations & Circumstances of Colleagues
Everyone’s home life is different. Learn the best times of day to contact the senior associates or partners in your cases. Can they talk by phone in the morning, or do they have screaming kids and barking dogs circling their desk? This is a difficult time for everyone, and flexibility is key. Understanding the new work-life challenges faced by your senior associates and partners will make life easier for them and for yourself.
Similarly, learn the technology limitations of your coworkers. It is important to recognize that many partners, especially older ones, have never worked remotely and never needed to learn the many programs you may use on a daily basis as an associate.
Learning the intricacies of the videoconferencing platforms is critical for virtual depositions. Learn how to introduce exhibits and share your screen. Especially for associates that have limited experience with depositions, getting comfortable with the videoconferencing platform will eliminate one more variable to worry about.
Maintaining a Relationship with Mentors, Associates, and Staff
Mentorship is vital to the legal profession. Generally, you learned how to analyze case law, write a brief, and advocate a position in law school. But the numerous decisions attorneys make every day is not something most associates are prepared for out of law school. For example, dealing with a difficult opposing counsel or a difficult client, making strategic discovery decisions, and building case strategy are elements of the job learned through experience. Mentorship is essential to learning this part of the profession and becoming a better attorney.
Working remotely makes mentorship difficult but not impossible. You should make an effort to connect with a mentor and develop relationships with your colleagues. On the latter point, keep the conversations going with your fellow associates and staff members. An important—often overlooked—benefit of working in the office is the total immersion into the legal world. Call your co-workers and discuss your case. Brainstorm how to solve little issues. Keep yourself updated with the cases going on in the firm. Check in with your legal assistants and paralegals. Many of them have more experience than most junior associates—learn from them! These conversations are vital to growing your knowledge base and getting comfortable in the legal profession.
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