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Required Practical Skills for Young Associates


by Sybil Dunlop at (see the original post here)

When I first started working at a law firm, I had a misplaced desire to own 100% of my projects. Instead of delegating letterhead printing and exhibit pdfing to a legal administrative assistant, I would muddle through these tasks on my own. This hoarding was silly, and I have since learned the benefits of delegating.

That said, sometimes you may find yourself at the office on a weekend undertaking an emergency TRO or filing something at 11:00 PM. At these moments, it’s important that SOMEONE know how to pdf a document or even file electronically. (I know, I know, some of you at super large firms have access to a 2:00 AM person who can undertake these tasks such that you will never need to lift a finger—this conversation is for the rest of us.) So what are the tasks that every newer attorney should strive to master in case of emergency?


Federal Court Filing

Since you can file until midnight, one never knows when a last minute filing could be necessary. For this reason, it is nice to know the basics of an ECF filing. Now I’m not saying that every new associate needs to learn advanced filing techniques (these would include filing items under seal and submitting huge filings with massive exhibits and attachments). For most of these filings, you will have advanced notice and can make sure the right paralegals and legal administrative assistants are on board, ready to work their magic.

That said, you might need to file an emergency letter to the court or a late-received affidavit after everyone else has gone home. If you have already received a primer on ECF filing, you will be ready to go. If you have a checklist showing items you may need for a complete filing, you’re in even better shape (did you add a word count certificate? did you need a notice of service? a proposed order?) In addition, make sure that you have your password ready to go. Nothing is worse than being ready to file and then finding that the keeper of the passwords has disappeared.

State Court Filing

Since our state court filing system closes before people leave for the day, it is less likely that a newer attorney in my state would be called upon after hours to handle a state court filing. That said, it is still a good idea to know how the system works. All you need to do is ask permission to hover behind an administrative assistant, watch a state court filing, and take notes. Again, make sure that you have access to your password.

PDFing, Faxing, etc.

One weekend at the office, I needed to scan and send documents across the country. I could not for the life of me figure out how to use the scanner, and I felt fairly lame (I do know how to use my scanner at home, so all was not lost).  The next Monday, I trotted into our copy center and humbly asked for a quick lesson in case I ever needed to scan documents on the weekend again.

Our office fax (luckily) has beautiful step-by-step instructions displayed above the machine. I have used these instructions in the past, and I am sure I will use them again.

There are other skills that have invariably come in handy when someone needs something on a moment’s notice and I am the only person around:

  1. The ability to copy something;
  2. The ability to PDF something;
  3. The ability to add Bates numbers to a document;
  4. The ability to redact information from a document;
  5. The ability to create a letter on your firm letterhead;
  6. The ability to set up and run a conference call and add individuals to a call; and
  7. The ability to conference someone into a call on your cell phone.

Again, this isn’t to say that I’m the most effective person to undertake any of these tasks. Usually, I am seven times as slow as someone who performs these tasks on daily basis. But I keep a running list detailing how to complete these jobs, just in case (one key part of my emergency list? My legal administrative assistant’s cell phone number). Because there may be times when you’re the only one around and being able to say “not a problem; I’ve totally got this,” feels pretty darn good.


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