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3 Questions Associates Should Never Be Afraid to Ask

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. | Last updated on

Nearly all associates have questions they're afraid to ask the partners or supervising attorneys.

Perhaps it's our law school culture based on the Socractic method that leaves you in constant fear of being humiliated for not knowing the answer. But as attorneys, it's important to ask questions -- even if you're afraid you may look stupid.

So what are three questions new associates should never be afraid to ask?

1. Can I Bill For That?

Associates should never be afraid to ask questions about billing. Billing clients is how the firm makes money, so your higher-ups should be happy that you're covering all the bases.

While meeting all of your billable hours and maintaining your sanity is understandably difficult, knowing how to properly bill clients helps you avoid any ethical issues. For example, Webster Hubbell, a former Arkansas Supreme Court justice and associate attorney general for President Bill Clinton, went to prison for severely overbilling his clients.

2. Am I Doing This Right?

Along with the Socratic method, law school culture doesn't provide any reviews or evaluations of how you're doing until professors submit grades. So an entire semester may be spent wondering if you're understanding the right material, studying the right concept, or if you snagged the right outline from a 3L.

As an associate, you should avoid this type of guesswork, because knowing what your boss thinks of your performance will help improve your work quality. Your supervising attorney may have different expectations and goals than you imagined, so don't wait for raise or bonus time -- asking for a review or evaluation on a regular basis can help you figure out exactly what those expectations are, and help you satisfy them.

3. How Do I Draft That Again?

One of the scariest things about being a new lawyer is drafting legal documents that affect real clients. Sometimes it feels like your superiors forget that passing the bar doesn't equal knowledge of the entire legal universe. If you're not sure or forgot how to properly draft a memo, pleading, or demand letter, you shouldn't be afraid to ask your fellow associates for help. Your colleagues were likely in the same situation when they first started, so they're a good resource.

While it may seem scary to ask questions, it's more productive for law firms when associates ask questions than to waste a significant amount of precious, potential billable time figuring it out on your own.

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