Interview with Litigation Attorney Maura McIntyre, Part Two

Today I’m posting Part Two of my interview with attorney, Maura McIntyre. Ms. McIntyre is a litigation associate at Ungaretti and Harris LLP here in Chicago. (For Part One of this interview, see my post from Jul 13, 2012). Please feel free to pose questions to Ms. McIntyre in the comments.

Q:      What kinds of activities did you spend your daily work life on as a junior associate? First year? Second year?

 A:      I spent the majority of my first year researching a wide variety of legal issues, drafting research memos and basic pleadings, reviewing documents for production or in preparation for depositions, and appearing in court for routine status hearings and case management conferences.

As I moved into my second year, I started to get more experience drafting discovery requests and more substantive motions, including motions to dismiss, motions to compel, and motions for summary judgment.

 Q:      How did your relationship work with more senior associates and partners at that time? Were you able to get mentoring from them? How?

 A:      My relationship with partners and senior associates varied greatly during my first and second year.  I worked closely with a few associates at my firm while I was a summer associate and often reached out to them with questions about my assignments.

By the end of my first year, I started working with a few partners who took me under their wing and helped me develop my skills and my confidence as an attorney.  Once I was comfortable with them and felt they were confident in my abilities, I approached them with questions or problems I encountered in my other cases.

 Q:      How did you get your assignments? Were you able to figure out a way to get the type of matters or assignments you wanted? How did you do that? Did you “market” yourself within the firm?

 A:      When I first started as an associate, most of my work came through two partners who served as the litigation workflow coordinators.  It took me about six months to develop a solid caseload.  During those early months, I would often email the workflow coordinators at the beginning of the week to let them know that I was available to take on work.

I quickly realized that not all of the partners utilized the workflow coordinators when staffing their cases.  Instead, they reached out to associates with whom they had developed a strong working relationship.  In an attempt to be proactive, I started reaching out directly to partners that I enjoyed working with (or that I thought I might like to work with) and asked them to keep in me in mind if they needed any assistance with any of their cases.

Now, as a more senior associate, I often reach out to partners who have certain niche practices that I am interested in exploring, even if I’ve never worked with them.   It never hurts to ask for more work.

 Q:      When did you start to appear in court, and how did you prepare for those experiences?

 A:      I started appearing in court very soon after I received my license—a week later to be exact.  Before my first court appearance, I met with the partner on the case and he explained that I would be asking for an extension of time to file a brief. I reviewed the entire file, wrote out exactly what I wanted to say, and arrived at court about thirty minutes early.  After watching a few other attorneys step up, I started rewriting my argument to follow some of their examples.  Then my case was called.  I don’t remember exactly what ended up coming out of my mouth, but, in the end, we got the extension.

Like anything else, the more often you appear in court, the easier it gets.  You get used to the process and you become more comfortable speaking to the judge and opposing counsel.

Q:      What were the greatest challenges in your work your first year? Second year? Third?  In terms of the substance of your work?  In terms of handling or managing your schedule?  Other?  Why were these the greatest challenges?

 A:      My biggest challenge as a first year associate was making the transition from law school to the practice of law.  In college and law school, I usually had a good idea of how my work was stacking up.  After working a few months at my firm, however, it was hard for me to what people thought of my work—to tell whether I was perceived as a hard working associate or a complete idiot.  I now know that many people feel this way in their first year.

As I moved into my second year, the uneasy feelings I struggled with during my first year subsided and my challenges shifted to balancing my workload and understanding where my work fit into the larger litigation.  Oftentimes I was staffed on cases in the middle of discovery or at the summary judgment stage.  The next thing I knew, the parties were negotiating settlement and nothing ever came of the motion that I had been drafting.

           Being an associate is an evolving process.  As soon as you overcome one challenge, another quickly crops up in its place.  In some ways, this is one of the benefits of the job – you’re constantly learning new things and facing new challenges.  On the other hand, you do suffer some sleepless nights.

 Q:      If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself as a first and second year associate?

 A:      When you first begin practicing law, there is a huge learning curve – you’re learning how to do substantive legal work, you’re learning how to handle many different (and sometimes difficult) personalities, and you’re learning how to manage your workload.  Every assignment feels like an emergency that needs to be completed right away.  It’s really important to communicate with the partners and senior associates that you are working with so that you are on the same page.  Sometimes, as a junior associate, you are afraid to ask questions.  Don’t be.  It is much better to ask questions to make sure you get it right than to spin your wheels for hours trying to figure out what the partner actually wants you to do for him or her.

 Q:      When did you start to have the status of a mid level associate? What marked the transition — how did your work change?

 I think I was considered a mid-level associate sometime between my third and fourth year.  For me, the transition was marked by one case that I worked on during that period.

I was assigned to the case by a young partner in my firm—I answered to him and he answered to the senior partner on the case.   Sometime in the middle of my third year, the young partner left the firm and I started reporting directly to the senior partner.  Being the only other attorney on the case, I was able to take a number of depositions and was ultimately given the opportunity to argue an appeal before the First District Court of Appeals.  Although I was nervous to lose the “buffer” between myself and the senior partner, it was a great learning experience for me.

Q:       When did you start to supervise junior associates rather than being supervised yourself?

           I began supervising junior associates in my third year.  I started out by managing document review projects and reviewing research conducted by second and third year associates.  In my third and fourth year, I was able to assign more substantive tasks.

Note: Post slightly edited as of 8/29/12]

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