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December 03, 2021 Articles

Excelling as an Energy Associate: Tips for Ensuring You’re Indispensable

Use the following guide to make sure that you’re contributing all you can during investigations and litigation.

By Serena A. Rwejuna
Staying on top of developments might not be billable (gasp!) but that might be okay.

Staying on top of developments might not be billable (gasp!) but that might be okay.

Pexels | Sora Shimazaki

Tip No. 1: Master the Facts

This sounds very simple, but it can mean the difference between being called on for a one-off document review and becoming the lead associate on an important investigation or litigation matter. If you own the record, you’re critical—full stop. Senior attorneys who are focusing on high-level strategy and who are in constant communication with the client, regulators, and other parties will rely on a team member who is in the weeds and knows the record inside and out. If you can become that associate, then you’re not just adding value during the document review or information-gathering phase of the case: you’ve now elevated yourself to a critical role as the matter continues; and you’ve solidified your role on the team during depositions, at hearing, when considering settlement or other alternative dispute resolution, and on appeal—frankly put, throughout the entire life cycle of the case.

Tip No. 2: Stay on Top of Recent Developments

While your team will expect you to be on top of developments in your particular client matter, if you stay aware of developments in the law generally, in other public matters that have similar facts, or in regulatory developments that may play a role in how your case will ultimately be resolved, you could become indispensable to your team. Yes, this might not be billable—gasp!—but that might be OK.

Knowing what’s going on and keeping your team in the know opens the door for more senior attorney and client interaction; demonstrates your interest not only in the client’s case but also in increasing your knowledge and expertise in the area generally; and potentially opens the door for writing and speaking opportunities, demonstrating that you’re a thought leader in the area. As a junior associate, I amassed many of my bylines through blog posts, several of which were picked up by high-profile publications including Law360.

Does your firm have a matter number for professional or practice development? Do you get credit for other productive hours? Even if this time isn’t client billable, it may aid in your professional and practice development, so don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your long-term success. Furthermore, say you take this advice: if you find something that is important for the client or the case, don’t be afraid to ask the senior attorneys on your team whether there is a billable project that may result from the new information that you’ve found. Perhaps there is a new issue that needs to be researched? Or the client may now want regular updates on the issue that you spotted or the similar cases that you identified? That tracking and periodic reporting can potentially become a billable assignment because it’s now adding value to the case and the client.

Tip No. 3: Seek Out Opportunities to Engage with the Client

All associates hope that they will have supervisors and champions who are constantly seeking out opportunities to get them in front of the client, the regulators, or the courts. If this isn’t the case, don’t be afraid to ask for the experiences you want! While you may not be leading major client presentations, you can voice your interest in being in the room. With more and more client interactions taking place virtually, it is easier than ever to dial in to a videoconference and be present. This allows you to hear the updates firsthand and to become a visible contributor to the client’s case—and not just another name on the bill.

Tip No. 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

Ask questions, offer suggestions, and voice your opinion—especially if you’ve taken my advice in Tip No. 3 and you’ve now heard something that you think is important. It’s easy for more seasoned attorneys to become set in their ways; a fresh set of eyes and perspective may open the door to more innovative and creative client solutions. This becomes increasingly important when considering that the regulators on the other side of the table may also be younger practitioners or, at the very least, eliciting the feedback of team members who are providing fresh perspectives and views. Even if you are simply voicing an additional reason why you believe that a particular strategy is appropriate, your contribution can serve to reinforce the positions and ideas previously taken. In either case, your input is valuable.

Taking this point one step further, now that you’re an engaged contributor, have you realized that there are issues at play that could have implications for other areas of the client’s business, other ongoing regulatory matters, or other ongoing litigation? To the extent that you can flag these potential areas of overlap, you become even more valuable to the senior attorneys leading the matter and also more critical to the client’s team of trusted advisers.

Tip No. 5: Ask for Feedback

As a practical matter, you never want to be surprised by a performance evaluation at the end of the year. If you aren’t getting valuable feedback in real time, don’t be afraid to ask for it. In addition to helping yourself learn and grow, you’ll also be helping us, the senior attorneys. As we give feedback to junior attorneys, we are inadvertently forced to do something very important—evaluate and analyze our own performance. Did this associate not hit the mark because I wasn’t clear in what I asked for? Did the target move over time? If the associate excelled, why? Was it something I did well as a leader that I can replicate in other cases? What did this associate do well that could add value to other cases and client matters? By encouraging a continuum of feedback, you help yourself, and your team, in its growth and development.

Serena A. Rwejuna is an energy attorney in the Washington, D.C., area.


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