Document Generation, Email Management, Ethics, Management, Productivity, Security, Wellness

Some Best Practices from Law Firm Associates

books balanced on a laptop with a cup of coffee set on topA recent Reddit thread posed the question “what are some examples of best practices you employ in your daily routine or have learned from more senior attorneys?”. The following is a summary of the responses, edited for repetition and some negative advice removed. In some cases, more senior attorneys submitted their thoughts. These are helpful suggestions whether you are a newer associate or an experienced attorney.

Managing Tasks and Deadlines

  • If possible, finish an assignment one day before the deadline, sleep on it, and review the whole thing before handing it in. There will be times when you can’t finish an assignment the day before the deadline. Even a few hours of putting it down, focusing on something else, and then picking it back up, will help.
  • Set reminders to follow up on an email after x time has passed. You’ll be surprised how often you send something to a paralegal, a week goes by, and you realize they never replied.
  • Write every little thing down in your to do list. Like even “ask x about availability for a call”, even if you are going to do it 5 mins later. You’ll get distracted and forget the small stuff.
  • Re-read the email that has the instructions to an assignment before submitting the assignment.
  • Do not assume you will remember any details that you were told during a meeting where you were given an assignment and take detailed notes. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve spent far too long trying to later decipher what I meant when I wrote down random words or abbreviations on a notepad assuming I’d remember. I now type my notes during these meetings instead of handwriting them because it’s faster and clearer.
  • Create a second brain. I use OneNote at work and Notion for my personal notes. I keep all notes, all workings out and thinking in there, it’s great for a paper trail for my own process.
  • Let the assigning attorney know if you’re not going to make a deadline. With enough notice, we can fix the situation.
  • Always ask what you should prioritize and confirm what your plan is for the day.
  • On Friday summarize what you have done this week and what the focus is on for the next week.


  • Pick and stick to an organization system for your inbox. Having thousands of emails in your inbox will overwhelm you.
  • CC your seniors on everything until instructed otherwise.
  • Read that long email aloud before sending it.
  • Always double-check whether you are sending the correct document to the correct people.
  • Always triple check who is on the to and cc lines. When drafting an email reply cut the email addresses in the “To” and “CC” lines while drafting, so you don’t actually send the email before it’s ready to go out. It can be a bit of a pain to add the addresses back in, but worth it. OR keep all the recipients but include an exclamation point, question mark or some other punctuation in the to, cc or bcc field. If you inadvertently hit send, Outlook will catch the punctuation and show an alert. When ready to send, just remove it first. I put in “[HOLD]”, which accomplishes the same thing but has the added benefit of being easily searchable in your drafts.
  • Run a 25-50 item inbox. These are my to do lists and that is it. File or delete everything else.
  • Reply to all emails that instruct/ask you to do something, even if they don’t seem to invite a response. For example, if you receive an email about an ongoing assignment that says, “make sure to attach XYZ to the brief,” you should reply, even though no real response is being solicited. Attorneys are anxious people so even a “will do”, “sounds good”, or “I’m on it” is worth sending to confirm you read the email.
  • Clean out your inbox at the end of the day, which has saved me several times when I caught some work I’d forgotten about.


  • Read everything three times. You’ll always catch something. First time I read to make sure I’ve answered all the questions / instructions and included all the points. Second, I read to make sure it says what I need it to say, and it reads well (i.e., clear coherent structure and persuasive / instructive). Third, granular detail (spelling, grammar, defined terms, numbering etc.)
  • Print large documents to proof them, you’ll catch the mistakes that are less noticeable.
  • Learn how to open documents in “read only” if you aren’t opening it to edit it. Nothing will drive a senior up a wall like trying to edit a doc that you left checked out when you logged off for the day.
  • Pay careful attention to defined terms in your legal writing– they are notoriously easy to mess up during the revision process.
  • Always check the redline.

Time Tracking

  • The first order of business every morning should be to review and release yesterday’s time entries.
  • Similarly, don’t take mental notes to “add XYZ minutes” to your time entries– you will forget.
  • Have some kind of on-the-fly system for last-minute time-related notes.


  • Keep a tab of what people are up to and what they’re working on (work wise mainly but sometimes outside of work) and use this to build connections, find common ground with people. It’s hugely valuable and has built me a fantastic trusted professional network inside and outside of work which HUGELY helps with BD.

Stress Management

  • Manage your mindset – I can’t stress this enough.
  • Find a 15-minute activity / process to destress. Breathing exercises, a yoga routine, a walk, a song – it can be anything. But find it and build it, it’s your oasis and oasis in hard times.

Life Lessons

  • Never make the same mistake twice.
  • Work smart, not hard.
  • Don’t do anything good without telling anyone senior what you’ve done!
  • Be upfront when something has gone wrong.
  • The most important thing is to be responsive.
  • Don’t talk negatively about people, especially not in writing.