Tips for Associates to Get Work and Stay Busy during COVID-19

David J. Scriven-Young
Call in early to conference calls—this is an excellent opportunity to make small talk before the business portion of the call begins.

Call in early to conference calls—this is an excellent opportunity to make small talk before the business portion of the call begins.

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The past couple of months have confirmed that there are many things out of our control. COVID-19 and government quarantine orders resulted in the closure of our offices, dramatically altering the way we practice law. For many law firms, business has slowed because their clients instituted cost-cutting measures or, even worse, have closed their doors for good. Associates in law firms are justifiably concerned: according to a recent survey, 52 percent of associates said that they were most concerned about job security, while 23 percent said they were most worried about pay cuts or furloughs. While it may be easy to focus on all of the things you cannot control, there are many things you can control even in this environment. 

Commit to Taking Massive Action

During tough times, being smart, doing great and timely work, and thinking like a lawyer are not enough to keep timesheets filled. Commit to taking whatever actions are ethically necessary to get work and stay busy. It is easy to succumb to feelings of being scared or overwhelmed. But, instead, wake up early and commit to fighting for your job every day.

Be Available to the Partners Who Assign or Oversee Your Work

As a young associate, your main job is to provide service to your “internal clients”—the partners at your firm who assign work or oversee your work on a case or transaction. While of course, you cannot forget your ultimate responsibility to the “external clients” who pay the bills of the law firm, your priority must be to the partners who sign your paycheck.

Ensure that the partners know you are available, willing, and able to work on their projects. During working hours, have your computer turned on and your cell phone charged so you can respond quickly to emails and answer your cell phone. Even though you are working remotely, this is not the time to hide or play games. Remember, if you do not answer the phone or respond to emails, partners will turn to other associates who are available. If you find yourself in a situation where a partner is calling but you cannot answer the phone, send them a quick text or email letting them know when you can call back. Also, be prepared for and call in early to telephone conferences—this is an excellent opportunity to make small talk before the business portion of the call begins. Dress appropriately (whatever that means at your firm) for video calls. Use headphones with a microphone so you can type and take notes on calls without having to resort to speakerphone mode. Keep yourself on mute until you have something to contribute, and be ready to quickly take yourself off mute when someone asks you a question.

Seize Opportunities, Even the Small Ones

Even as businesses close doors and events get canceled, opportunities to get work within your firm abound. Opportunities tend to snowball—when you seize an opportunity and do well, it may lead to additional opportunities. Now is a great time to reactivate a mentoring relationship you may have at your firm. Pay close attention to internal emails and think about how you can be involved in firm activities. If your firm has a COVID-19 task force or has a committee that is advising clients on how to safely reopen, contact a firm leader and offer to assist with any research or writing that may be needed. Look closely at conflict requests and notice which rainmakers are opening new matters—contact them to see if they need assistance researching or preparing an article, presentation, or client pitch. If your firm has a blog, newsletter, or another resource, contact your marketing director and offer to assist.

Look for external opportunities as well. Now more than ever, the ABA and state and local bar associations are providing electronic, video, and webinar resources to their members. Step up and contribute. These opportunities are often publicized on bar association social media pages or on the webpages of committees (such as ABA YLD committees) for the substantive areas of law in which you practice. Then, send your firm’s marketing director and relevant partners a link to your work so they can use it to promote the firm.

Focus on the Positives

Following these tips will help you get work and stay busy. By communicating your availability and seizing opportunities that come in, you will put yourself in the best position to succeed.

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David J. Scriven-Young is senior counsel at Peckar & Abramson, P.C. in Chicago, Illinois. He may be reached via email or on social media @AttorneyDSY.