I Need More Work


QHi! I work in a medium law firm in Manhattan and am a first-year in corporate law. We closed a big deal about three weeks ago. I am in charge of the boring, tedious, post-closing grunt work. I’m the most junior attorney so that is my lot in life. I honestly don’t mind it. I’m just happy to be a part of the team. My concern is that the post-closing work at this point only consumes an hour or so of my day. No other attorney has given me any other assignments.

I’ve specifically stated to the second-year and the senior associate who worked on the last deal that I have a very light work load and I would be happy to work wherever I am needed. They both said that if they had something, they would give to me. I’ve heard through the rumor mill of new deals starting up, but no one has officially asked me to do anything. I really have nothing to do and am bored out of my mind and worried about my job security. I feel like I’m being neglected and am slipping through the cracks.

How do I ask for work in a meaningful, polite way? Who do I ask? I’m afraid to go to my practice group leader before I talk to the partners in my office, but the partners in my office should know that I need work and have nothing to do. Plus it is difficult to strike up a conversation with them when I see them in the hallways.

AOkay, here’s the deal. They don’t tell you this in law school, but part of your job as an associate is to market yourself within your firm. It’s your job to meet the people that matter and to make them want to work with you. Specifically, that means you need to network with senior associates and junior partners. How do you do that?  That’s up to you. Some people are naturals, others aren’t. But if you passed the bar, you can certainly figure out how to ask someone if they need help. Or better yet, just stop by their office and say, “Hey, I was just wondering if you need any help on anything?” If they say no, it’s either because they didn’t have any work to give or they’d prefer not to work with you. I have no idea what your reputation is, but if it’s good, and people like working with you, it’s purely a function of the firm’s workload.

You also need to remember that we’re in a recession. Transactional work has slowed down significantly across the country. So my guess is, the real reason you’re not getting any work is . . . there isn’t any. Hang tough and continue to ask the right people. In the meantime, write an article relating to your practice area, attend a relevant (local) seminar, or catch up on your CLE credits. In two months, when you’re stuck in a windowless conference room all weekend, you’ll hate yourself for wasting all that free time.

Ex-Bitter is a former big firm lawyer who now doles out advice to anyone who asks. Got a question? Email it to advice@bitterlawyer.com. Or read more Advice from an Ex-Bitter.

3 Comments

  1. Cynical

    August 23, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Things have been somewhat slow lately where I am—a small firm in the legal backwaters of flyover country where associates only dream of making the salaries that rock star first year associates do in the big cities.
    When there’s nothing to do and I’ve asked around—or see that the partners are out of the office having fun—I use my time wisely and make sure to get some leisure time outside of the office.
    Just tell the receptionist that you’re doing some research at the law library and nobody will notice.
    I’m cynical and see the writing on the wall that the only way to move up is to move out and start my own firm, so I also use my free time to read up the latest case law so that when I make a break for it, I’ll be up to speed in areas that aren’t a part of my current job description.  If you have nothing to do and are reading the advance sheets, nobody can complain because you’re keeping up with what the courts are doing.
    Just don’t compete against your current employer—reading case law is just for educational purposes and will greatly benefit their firm in some way by giving you a greater understanding of the current state of the judiciary, even though it might benefit you later on as well.
    Never feel bad about taking advantage of downtime—especially when most of the partners are missing in action and you know they aren’t in court or meeting with clients.
    I never feel bad about it, because I’m also not getting paid as much as associates are in the big city.  I figure time is money, and I’m just taking advantage of a fringe benefit in the form of extra free time.  If they were paying me more, I might feel guilty about not obsessing about the law.
    Just use that free time wisely.

  2. BSD

    August 27, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Get used to it…the paralegals are probably laughing behind your back!!!

  3. OWR

    October 9, 2009 at 11:15 pm

    Be careful about asking like this.  You have to manage your time with exquisite precision…. if possible.  I’m in a litigation department at a huge practice and I did some asking 2 weeks ago.  Things were fine for a while, and then the same lawyers came back and I got so overloaded that I was going on 4 hours of sleep a night for a whole week.  I just finished up my last little bit tonight.  Almost passed out from the pain and exhaustion.  I’m gonna sleep soon, and I refuse to go in this weekend.  So be careful.

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